USDA creating more bird habitat areas on irrigated farmland

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The Conservation Reserve Program now will encourage more bird habitats to be established in irrigated farmland regions, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini announced last week.
Declines in upland bird populations, such as the northern bobwhite, pheasant, and prairie chicken, led to the creation of new Conservation Reserve Program features to help restore habitats for these species in these agricultural areas. Since the program’s creation in 2004, more than 240,000 acres of marginal cropland has been converted to native grasslands, spurring an increase in upland bird populations.
In recent years, however, applications for this type of habitat creation have slowed. To encourage more participation, USDA’s new policy focuses on farmland with center-pivot irrigation systems where there are circular areas of cropland with patches of land beyond the reach of irrigation. Until now, these patches – known as pivot corners – were only eligible for habitat creation when connected by a linear strip of grassland also enrolled in the program. The new policy allows producers interested in habitat creation to use disconnected pivot corners to help increase the population of upland birds.
 “This is how creative thinking can strengthen the intersection of both agriculture and conservation,” said Dolcini. “By removing the program’s requirement for connecting strips, we believe more participants will convert more pivot corners into habitat. Studies suggest that the shapes of these patches, and their proximity to each other, create an attractive environment for the birds, even without the connecting strips.”

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