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Agriculture Today

Agreement extends conservation efforts on working private lands

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January 2, 2013 | 4,540 views | Post a comment

TEMPLE -- Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe have announced an agreement that will provide long-term regulatory predictability for up to 30 years to Texas farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners participating in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Working Lands for Wildlife initiative. Participants voluntarily implement proven conservation practices designed to protect wildlife habitat, such as the lesser-prairie chicken, on private lands.

“This agreement will change the way we manage at-risk species on private lands,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service Texas State Conservationist Salvador Salinas. “It will provide landowners with a mechanism to keep working lands in production while complying with the Endangered Species Act, and will facilitate restoration of habitat for at-risk species. It also will help Texas farmers and ranchers rest a little easier knowing their operations are protected for the long term and that they are contributing to conserving vital natural resources.”

“The American conservation movement has called for a new approach in species conservation,” Salinas said. “We are working to remove fear around the Endangered Species Act and to empower private landowners across the country to keep working lands working while simultaneously protecting and sustaining at-risk species.”

The agreement builds on a $33 million investment Natural Resources Conservation Service announced last spring dedicated toward producers who develop and implement conservation plans to manage and restore high-priority habitats for seven specific wildlife species across the country. The species are greater sage-grouse, New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, lesser prairie-chicken, and the Southwestern willow flycatcher. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and numerous state and local entities are partnering to implement the USDA Working Lands for Wildlife initiative.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and numerous state and local entities such as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Pheasants Forever, the Playa Lakes Joint Venture, and many others are partnering to implement the USDA Working Lands for Wildlife in Texas. With this agreement, farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who implement and voluntarily agree to maintain the proven conservation practices in the USDA Working Lands for Wildlife initiative will have addressed the related Endangered Species Act regulatory responsibilities for up to 30 years. These landowners will be able to operate their farms and ranches as agreed upon, providing economic benefits and species conservation simultaneously.

Under the USDA Working Lands for Wildlife partnership, federal, state, and wildlife experts jointly identified at-risk or listed species that would benefit from targeted habitat restoration investments on private lands. Using the best available science, these wildlife experts prioritized restoration actions on a large regional scale to focus assistance most cost-effectively.

The USDA Working Lands for Wildlife initiative attempts to remove uncertainty from the Endangered Species Act for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners by converting the potential for regulation into proactive, voluntary approach that provides incentives and assistance to landowners who improve species habitat.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service or one of its partners will visit the farmer or rancher’s property to run an initial assessment and work with the landowner to develop a conservation plan that fits his or her needs and desires. The conservation plan identifies a core set of proven conservation practices that will benefit the species. The Natural Resources Conservation Service sets aside financial assistance to implement the recommended conservation practices. During fiscal year 2012, Texas Natural Resources Conservation Service obligated $662,000 for the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initative on 32,000 acres.

The federal government will grant farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners regulatory predictability in return for voluntarily making wildlife habitat improvements on their private agricultural and forest lands. Participating producers must adhere to the requirements of each conservation practice during the term of their contract, which can last from one to 15 years. If landowners would like to receive regulatory predictability for up to 30 years, they must maintain the conservation practices as outlined in the Natural Resources Conservation Services and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreement.

For more information about Working Lands for Wildlife, visit www.tx.usda.gov.

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