USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar have created the Working Lands for Wildlife partnership, a $33-million alliance with farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to use innovative approaches to restore and protect the wildlife habitats for seven identified species in specific geographic areas.
A cutoff date of Monday, April 30, has been set to rank eligible applications for funding in the first sign-up period. If funds remain, a second sign-up period will be held through Wednesday, May 30, 2012. The unique circumstances and concerns of interested historically underserved ranchers are also addressed by offering a higher payment rate for them. For more information, contact your local USDA Service Center. Phone number and address are available on the internet at offices.usda.gov.
Kansas landowners may sign up to manage and restore high-priority habitats for the lesser prairie-chicken within the 36 eligible Kansas counties. The targeted Kansas counties include: Barber, Clark, Comanche, Edwards, Ellis, Finney, Ford, Gove, Graham, Grant, Gray, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kiowa, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Pawnee, Pratt, Rush, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Trego, Wallace, and Wichita.
"The aim of the new program is to focus available conservation dollars and wildlife expertise on the recovery of these at-risk species," said Eric B. Banks, state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Kansas.
The targeted at-risk species in Kansas, the lesser prairie-chicken, is a ground-nesting bird native to the rangelands of Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. In the spring during the lesser prairie-chickens' breeding season, they are known for their "gobbling" sounds and unique courtship displays. Males attract females to the breeding grounds with elaborate dancing displays, showing off their yellow combs and red air sacs that inflate. Bird populations declined dramatically during the past several decades due to loss of native prairie, habitat fragmentation, and degradation of habitat on both private and public lands.
By improving their habitat, ranchers are working to ensure that future generations of Americans will be able to experience these remarkable birds. Plus, the conservation activities implemented as part of the initiative help protect soil, water, and plant resources—leading to the improved productivity and sustainability of the region's agricultural producers.
In Kansas, two conservation practices that improve lesser prairie chicken habitat are prescribed grazing and brush management. In the past two years, Kansas landowners have been approved in 105 contracts to provide improved habitat and to reduce disturbances for the LEPC on nearly 49,000 acres. Financial assistance from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program has helped farmers and ranchers install approximately 115 miles of grazing lands perimeter fencing around Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres to prevent conversion to cropland.