USDA and Interior Department initiate joint conservation program
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WASHINGTON, March 8, 2012- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a $33 million partnership today funded through the Wildlife Habitats Incentives Program (WHIP). They said the joint program, Working Lands for Wildlife, will allow landowners to benefit from conservation practices focused on seven specific species.
“In return for voluntarily implementing conservation practices, the federal government will provide landowners with the regulatory certainty that they will not be asked to take additional conservation actions in the future,” Salazar said.
Sign-up begins today for the program, which will initially focus on the following seven species: greater sage-grouse, New England cottontail, bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, lesser prairie-chicken and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
Vilsack said USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Interior's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will work together toward three goals: to restore threatened and endangered wildlife populations, to provide landowners with more regularly certainty in their conservation investments and to strengthen rural economies through working land.
“Hopefully landowners will take advantage of $33 million we're providing through WHIP and be assured that the Department of Interior will work with them,” he added.
Under this program, federal, state and local wildlife experts jointly identify at-risk species that would benefit from targeted habitat restoration investments on private lands, said the secretaries. The departments will jointly prepare species recovery tools with a goal to have them in place for all priority species by the end of the year.
Interested producers and landowners in targeted areas can enroll in the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) on a continuous basis at their local NRCS field office. NRCS funds from WHIP will share the cost of conservation practices with landowners in areas known to support one or more of the selected species, according to USDA.
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