With two weeks to go before the scheduled August 1 cutoff date for Fiscal Year 2010 funding, Texas landowners have shown vast interest in participating Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI). Texas Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Don Gohmert provided an update recently.
NRCS in Texas originally received $750,000 for the initiative, but due to landowner interest, an additional $5 million in funding has been made available to landowners through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP).
“We are grateful and proud of Texas farmers and landowners for stepping up to help with this issue that is of such importance to the state and nation,” said Gohmert.
Through the initiative, NRCS will partner with producers to manage portions of their land to provide additional food and habitat for migrating birds. It is estimated that 40-50 million birds migrate annually down the Mississippi Alluvial Valley  to southern climates. Texas is mainly in the Central Flyway and on the western edge of the Mississippi Flyway.
To date Texas has received 98 applications for the initiative bringing the number of potentially affected acres of land in Texas to 34,000.
“The application period will remain open until August 1 to ensure everyone interested in participating has a chance to be part of this initiative under the 2010 funding year and to make certain all available land has been identified so we can make the right ranking decisions.,” said Gohmert.
Through the agricultural lands component, NRCS will provide payment incentives for flooding existing farmed wetlands, prior-converted croplands, or other lands that can provide immediate habitat. EQIP and the WHIP help producers enhance habitat by flooding fields and establishing or maintaining vegetation for cover and food.
Priority areas in Texas are in Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Orange, Waller, and Wharton counties with secondary priority given to the adjacent counties that include Aransas, Austin, Fayette, Grimes, Jasper, Lavaca, Montgomery, Newton, Polk, Refugio, San Jacinto, Tyler, Victoria and Washington counties.
Eligible lands include wetlands farmed under natural conditions, existing farmed wetlands and prior converted croplands. Rice fields are particularly suited for this initiative, as are aquaculture farms no longer in production.
NRCS is working with several conservation partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, USA Rice, National Cotton Council, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
On June 22, NRCS announced the initiative to try to minimize the likelihood of southward migrating birds coming into contact with or using oil affected areas. The initiative will also try to ensure adequate food sources are available to compensate for food resources that may be reduced, contaminated or eliminated because of the oil spill.