Private Landowners: The Key to Conservation Success

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Published on: Jun. 18, 2012

The success of conservation belongs in large part to the generations of hard-working Missourians who have improved their land to benefit the state’s fish, forest and wildlife. “Private landowners own 93 percent of the state’s land and are the key to conservation success,” says Bill White, MDC private land services division field chief. “Since the

Department was created in 1937, the partnership between MDC and landowners has always been seen as the primary way to make conservation work. That partnership is stronger than ever.”

MDC supports landowners’ efforts to improve habitat through cost-share programs, initiatives and outreach efforts. These projects ultimately benefit all Missourians through healthy soils, waters and forests, as well as abundant fish and wildlife.

“Our natural resource recovery and conservation has evolved through a unique partnership including the collective wisdom of landowners, outdoor enthusiasts and government agencies,” says MDC Deputy Director Tom Draper. “It is my belief that our relationship with landowners is even more critical today than it has been in the past. Strengthening the partnership between farmers, sportsmen and conservation agencies has

never been more important if we are not only going to sustain soil, water and natural resources, but ourselves, as well.”

ADVANCING PRIVATE LANDOWNER CONSERVATION

MDC helps landowners improve habitat on their land through both technical assistance and cost-share programs. Last year, MDC provided service to more than 73,500 rural and urban landowners, including more than 5,500 on-site visits. Oftentimes, that conservation work occurs near public conservation areas.

“MDC manages approximately 995,000 acres of public land. Private land surrounding those areas plays an important role in expanding our management efforts,” says Mike Schroer, MDC wildlife management chief. “MDC staff offers private land neighbors technical assistance, field days and workshops to help them better manage their lands.”

MDC foresters assist landowners with forest management through one-on-one contacts and educational opportunities, offering technical advice and assistance on how to manage woodlands for wildlife and wood products.

Through the Forest Stewardship Program, created in the 1990 Farm Bill, MDC staff help landowners prepare management plans that consider all the natural resources on the landowner’s property. Missouri presently has 312,000 acres of land under stewardship plans, with more than 19,000 acres added just last year.

“MDC foresters assist thousands of landowners that are working to improve thousands of acres,” says Lisa Allen, Missouri state forester. “Site visits and referrals to consultants through the Call Before You Cut program are all a major part of our work facilitating more than 100 timber sales annually, totaling more than 5 million board feet—enough to build about 200 average-sized homes. Department-led landowner workshops and other education programs also contributed to more than half of the forest management plans written by Missouri forest owners last year.”

MDC’s George O. White Nursery fosters a growing forest resource by distributing about 3.5 million seed-lings each year. MDC provides forestry assistance on more than 42,200 acres of private land and to more than 100 municipalities.

MDC also works with landowners to maintain and improve sport fish populations, aquatic biodiversity and habitats. Last year, MDC provided stream and lake management assistance including pond evaluations, streambank stabilization and tree planting to more than 5,600 private landowners and distributed $466,000 for stream protection and restoration work through the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund, made available by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation.

“Missouri has tremendous aquatic resources and biodiversity, most of which is on private lands,” says Chris Vitello, MDC fisheries division chief. “To address this, the Department has selected 78 priority watersheds to focus its habitat and biodiversity efforts, selected for their conservation value, high likelihood of success, and the engagement of local stakeholders and partners.”

MDC partners with nongovernmental organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Quail Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever, and Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, as well as other groups, to develop cost-share and other initiatives through matching agreements.

MDC’s agriculture liaison works directly with agriculture groups and agencies to foster communication and cooperation in the understanding of fish, forest and wildlife issues as they relate to agriculture. “Communication is the key,” says Clint Dalbom, MDC agriculture liaison. “If we can understand each other, we can often work together.”

These efforts are important, since according to the 2007 Ag Census, 66 percent of Missouri was listed as “part of a farm,” including pasture, timber or cropland. “Good conservation and agricultural practices go hand in hand,” said Missouri’s Director of Agriculture Jon Hagler. “We encourage farm families to take advan- tage of the outstanding programs the Department has available. Native plants and species, for example, are beneficial to farming operations and play an important role in helping Missouri farmers continue to be the most productive in the world.”

WILDLIFE HABITAT, WATER QUALITY AND SOIL HEALTH

A number of agencies have joined forces to provide both technical and financial assistance to Missouri farmers and landowners. This partnership enhances and maintains wildlife habitat while simultaneously improving soil and water quality. Since 1981, the active partnership between MDC, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) have helped Missouri’s landowners protect, restore and enhance wildlife habitat in many ways, most significantly through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). Missouri is one of the top 10 states in the nation in acres of habitat conserved in both programs.

“Wildlife depends upon healthy soil and quality water, the same as people do,” says NRCS State Conservationist J.R. Flores. “Our partnership with MDC provides the opportunity to work with Missouri landowners and show them that it is possible to enhance soil quality, water quality and wildlife habitat on the same acres. For many years, Missouri has been a leader in the management of natural resources to benefit wildlife. Part of the reason is the willingness of federal and state agencies to work together for the common good.”

The Farm Bill’s CRP program provides multiple benefits to Missouri citizens. CRP allows landowners with highly erosive land to establish permanent vegetation, such as grass or trees. In return for temporarily taking the land out of production, the landowner is paid a certain amount per acre each year. Missouri currently has approximately 1.4 million acres enrolled in CRP. CRP has saved thousands of tons of soil from being lost through erosion, and has improved water quality, improved soil health and provided wildlife habitat.

WRP acreage in Missouri exceeds 140,000 acres, putting Missouri in the top five states for this Farm Bill program. WRP helps to remove cropland from production that experiences repeated flooding, expensive crop damage and excessive soil erosion. The restored wetlands benefit people throughout entire watersheds by enhancing water quality by naturally filtering and trapping nutrients, chemicals and sediment. They also provide excellent fish nurseries when connected to the main channel, as well as wildlife habitat for ducks, geese, amphibians and shore birds.

The Farm Bill’s Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds program provides excellent habitat for quail and other upland wildlife while helping farmers reduce herbicide use and expense on crop edges, where production is often poor. To date, Missouri has enrolled more than 34,000 acres of native-grass field borders along cropland edges. Landowners receive cost share for establishing vegetative cover and an annual rental payment.

“We have the third highest acreage of this practice in the nation, even though we have less grain crop acres than neighboring Midwest states,” says Lisa Potter, MDC Farm Bill coordinator. “Nationwide, the habitat buffers have proven beneficial to quail and several songbirds compared to crop fields without buffers. We are eager to measure those benefits in Missouri.”

In 2008, the USDA Farm Service Agency introduced the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) practice of the Conservation Reserve Program, which focuses on establishing habitat for quail, prairie chickens and other declining wildlife. Similar to other CRP practices, participants may receive cost share, incentives and annual rental payments. In Missouri, SAFE has enrolled 19,785 acres of quail, prairie chicken and grassland bird habitat.

MDC also helps landowners benefit from two other popular federally funded programs, NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and its Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP). Both programs provide technical assistance to implement glade, savanna and woodland restoration projects, develop forest stewardship plans and enhance quail habitat.

Since 2002, more than 10,000 acres of prairie, glade, savanna and woodland have been restored through EQIP and WHIP on private land. Since 2008, more than $11 million in cost share has been provided to Missouri landowners to improve forests and habitats for wildlife— almost $3 million in cost share through EQIP and WHIP for forestry-related practices alone.

MDC has 57 full-time staff co-located in USDA service centers around the state to create a “one-stop” shop for landowners.

SOIL, WATER AND TEAMWORK

The Department also works hand-in-hand with the state’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) to help landowners manage and conserve the state’s natural resources. Found in each of Missouri’s 114 counties, these Districts provide financial incentives to landowners to implement conservation practices that help prevent soil erosion and protect water resources.

The Department helps many SWCDs purchase and loan out specialized equipment to help landowners create wildlife habitat improvements, such as tree planters, root plows, native grass drills and prescribed burn equipment. In turn, the SWCDs provide a means to loan the equipment to landowners and keep it in working order.

“We have a great partnership,” says Dalbom. “We organize educational workshops for landowners and bring together programs for school events. A SWCD will sponsor a prescribed burn workshop for MDC, and the Department will assist them with a Conservation Kids’ Day in their county. Local Soil and Water Districts have also helped by signing landowners up for Department incentives that result in better wildlife habitat on the land. This long-standing partnership has made a lasting impact on the landowners and the landscape of Missouri.”

PRESERVING OUR OUTDOOR HERITAGE AND ECONOMY

“In Missouri, all of the people own conservation. It’s a partnership between all of us, and we all benefit from the rewards of it,” says White. “The success we’ve seen in Missouri speaks to the strong conservation foundation we’ve built and the continued commitment Missourians have. MDC has worked out in the fields, with landowners throughout the state, for several generations now to strengthen and improve our lands to benefit both people and wildlife.”

Restoring wildlife habitat is not only pleasing to the eye, but also benefits the economy of Missouri. The total economic impact of fish and wildlife recreation and the forest products industry in Missouri is $11.7 billion dollars annually. This local activity helps to sustain the 95,000 Missouri jobs that are supported annually through fish, forest and wildlife recreation.

A COMMON CAUSE

Natural resource management is very complex and challenging. “The simple fact is that landscape changes—positive and negative—are related to how we all use the land,” says George Seek, retired MDC private land services division chief. “Soil, water and wildlife conservation form an inextricably linked brotherhood—one cannot flourish without the others. The health and vitality of our natural resources provide the foundation for healthy and sustainable economies and the foundation for sustainable life. In the end, we’re doing exactly what Theodore Roosevelt defined as conservation, which was using common sense, for a common cause, for common good.” S Contact your local MDC private land conservationist for information about incentives and cost-share programs, and schedule a visit to evaluate and develop a plan to enhance the wildlife habitat on your property. Find your contact at mdc.mo.gov/node/3676 or call your regional office. Learn more about MDC’s programs that benefit rural and urban landowners at mdc.mo.gov/node/90.

Show Me More Quail

Private landowners are the key to improving quail habitat. MDC works with tens of thousands of Missouri landowners to help them achieve their land-use objectives. About 17,000 of these landowners receive assistance with quail habitat.

In addition to technical assistance, such as habitat-management planning, MDC provides about $500,000 in cost-share funds to private landowners that go directly to quail habitat needs annually. MDC also works with several partner organizations to help deliver an average of $280,000 in matching funds directly for quail needs. MDC staff also helps private landowners apply for more than $150 million in funds available through USDA Farm Bill programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program and Conservation Buffers for Upland Birds.

MDC supports more than 30 private-land quail focus areas, where we offer additional cost-share opportunities and services, such as loaner equipment to help create quail habitat. MDC also works with partner organizations, including Quail Unlimited, Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, and Quail Forever and Pheasants Forever, on quail restoration. Members of several quail cooperatives help each other improve wildlife habitat and involve youth with habitat projects and wildlife education.

Visit MDC’s More Quail blog at mdc.mo.gov/ node/8728 and learn ways to improve quail habitat at mdc.mo.gov/node/4693.

Landowners and Trust Fund Benefit Streams

Private landowner Gordon Clayton of Lawrence County used the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund to correct years of mismanagement along a stream on property he purchased in 2004. The stream, Cracker Neck Branch, had the lower two miles channelized years ago. This caused a headcut as the stream tried to regain its natural grade, lowering the streambed and creating raw, vertical streambanks with heights of 15 feet or more.

One of Clayton’s first steps was removing livestock and planting trees on either side of the stream. Clayton worked with the Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices in Lawrence County and MDC to determine that grade control structures were needed to capture the headcut and return the stream’s grade to a more natural state. These structures can be expensive. Fortunately the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation’s Stream Stewardship Trust Fund was able to help fund this project.

Now that the structure is in place, Clayton is well underway to establishing more than 9 acres of riparian corridor and wetland buffers. With time and the added stability provided by the grade control structures, the streambank vegetation will flourish and the stream will become healthier. This project, and others like it, benefit adjacent landowners and local fisheries.

Clayton’s project is one of many small success stories between private landowners, the Department and other partners. Funding comes in part from the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund, overseen by the Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. The Fund receives monies from developers, agencies or individuals seeking a 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which enforces the Clean Water Act for required mitigation work. Those funds are used for stream projects that meet the Foundation’s responsibility to restore, enhance or preserve the stream resource.

The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation has allocated more than $4.5 million from the Stream Stewardship Trust Fund to stream protection and improvement projects since the program began 12 years ago.

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