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Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Working Lands for Wildlife Program Improves Habitat on 13,485 Acres in Inaugural Year

(Posted 1/12/18) Meeting goals 0f a producer while enhancing grassland habitat is especially important in the Sandhills. This is because the Nebraska Sandhills make up one of the largest intact grassland systems and are home to large populations of the federally endangered American burying beetle and the Greater Prairie-Chicken, an iconic grassland bird that has experienced significant population declines throughout most of its range. Control of eastern red cedar has positive benefits for grassland dependent birds and ranchers. This is because many grassland birds are area sensitive and will abandon an area when trees are present, even at relatively low densities (1- 2 trees per acre). Control of eastern red cedar also benefits the ranch operation because of increased forage production.    

To address these resource concerns, Nebraska Cattlemen worked with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Pheasants Forever, Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Sandhills Task Force, The Nature Conservancy, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to develop a Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) proposal. This proposal focused on control of eastern red cedar in the eastern Sandhills.

Photo by C. Christiansen

Grassland before and after prescribed fire shows significant decrease in eastern red cedars. Photo by C. Christiansen

In the initial WLFW application period, NRCS staff and conservation partners worked with 10 ranchers to develop conservation plans for their ranches. Each plan focused on implementing conservation practices that improved the ranch operation and habitat conditions. Many of the conservation plans include grazing systems, modifications to infrastructure to promote wildlife friendly grazing practices, and mechanical removal of eastern red cedar as well as integration of prescribed fire to control its re-infestation. The conservation plans provide road maps for use of a suite of conservation practices to meet natural resource and production goals. Cost-share through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial assistance to ranchers to implement the practices outlined in the conservation plans. The WLFW Initiative provides a special allocation of EQIP funds for these conservation practices in the Sandhills. The previously mentioned partners also provided cost-share. For most projects, the partner and EQIP cost-share covers 75% of the costs of the conservation practices implemented, with the landowner contributing the additional 25%. The conservation plans and associated practices will positively impact 13,486 acres once all of the practices are implemented. In total $466,990 of EQIP and partner funds were leveraged to implement these projects.

NRCS is now accepting applications for the 2018 WLFW application period.