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Interest Grows in Migratory and Shore Bird Habitat Initiative

story by Beverly Moseley

Take a step back in time and envision Texas when it was being settled and landscapes were vast, raw and covered with native plants and animals. The more than 360 miles of shoreline and more than 6 million acres of coastal prairies, marshes and wetlands that hugged the Gulf of Mexico were prime, vital wildlife habitat.

 Today, these critical wildlife habitats and ecosystems are in decline. Over time, factors such as urban encroachment, highways and increases in land conversion to farming and ranching have contributed to Great Blue Heron feeding in a coastal marsh.losses in habitat for migratory, grassland and shore bird species.

 In an effort to reverse this trend in habitat loss, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently announced the availability of funding through the Migratory and Shore Bird Habitat Initiative (MSBHI). This initiative provides an opportunity for private landowners in 23 coastal counties to implement conservation practices that will help restore and enhance these valuable ecosystems.

 “MSBHI will serve to restore and enhance native tall and mid-grass plant communities and wetland areas back onto the landscape. These restoration efforts will serve to provide habitat for bird populations and also provide secondary benefits for numerous other wildlife species,” said Garry Stephens, NRCS wildlife biologist.

 Texas counties within the initiative include Cameron, Willacy, Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, San Patricio, Aransas, Refugio, Calhoun, Victoria, Jackson, Matagorda, Wharton, Colorado, Austin, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Waller, Harris, Galveston, Chambers, Jefferson and Orange.

 The initiative is already experiencing an increase in interest from landowners and partners. To best serve this growing interest, NRCS has held training sessions for coastal staff and partners to aid in familiarizing them with the initiative’s objective.

Black-necked Stilts take flight.“The whole point is to get conservation on the ground,” said NRCS Assistant State Conservationist Tomas Dominquez, who spoke recently to NRCS staff at an agency training session.

Dominquez stressed to employees that the initiative is a long term effort focused on achieving the greatest environmental benefits possible through on-the-ground conservation.

The initiatives essential conservation planning practices include wetland wildlife habitat management and upland wildlife habitat management on a landowner’s field or pasure. In order to meet the criteria for these essential practices, financial assistance is available for many eligible facilitating practices. These practices can include conservation efforts focused on brush management, grassed waterways, fencing, along with restoration and management of declining habitats.

Stephens recently provided a MSBHI training session to agency partners. NRCS partnerships will play a key role in the initiative’s success and the restoration and transformation of these coastal ecosystems, he noted.

“As society requires more production from private lands, conservation strategies compatible with working lands will become even more important for sustaining bird populations. With this in mind, representatives from Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Ducks Unlimited, Texas Prairie Wetlands, Oak Prairie Joint Venture, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Wildlife Habitat Federation recently met to discuss strategies that will effectively leverage technical and financial assistance in order to aid in restoration and conservation of the ‘critically imperiled’ Gulf prairies and marshes ecosystems,” Stephens said.