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Wildlife habitat program benefits landowners, environment

A federal program designed to help restore and enhance wildlife habitats has worked well in Louisiana, according to LSU AgCenter forestry and wildlife specialist Don Reed.

Reed said $375,000 was set aside for Louisiana projects during 2001, and more than $20 million was budgeted across the country.

The program — dubbed the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) — is a land management program that helps private landowners plan, implement and pay for selected wildlife habitat improvements. Created by the 1996 farm bill, the program was intended to help landowners develop habitat for various wildlife, including threatened and endangered species.

“The program historically has helped restore or enhance various habitats including aquatic habitats, riparian habitats, wetlands, early successional habitats, grasslands and forests,” Reed explains, adding, “It is designed for long-term practices that require only periodic maintenance, as evidenced by the fact that annual food plots are not eligible for WHIP funds.”

WHIP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service, but the wildlife management policies and procedures that comprise the program are developed with state technical committees, as well as other federal and state agencies and conservation partners.

“The program name is somewhat of a misnomer, since no incentive payments are made for implementing the wildlife practices outlined on an area,” Reed said. “The program is designed to provide up to 75 percent cost-share assistance for installing and maintaining a variety of wildlife management practices. The remaining 25 percent of establishment and maintenance costs may be paid by the landowner or any other non-federal conservation partners.”

WHIP is designed as a continuous sign-up program, which means that interested land managers can submit applications any time during the current fiscal year, which runs through September 2001. Funding decisions for the various plans will be finalized by July 27, 2001.

“It should be noted that funding must be approved before initiation of any management practice in which cost sharing is sought,” Reed stressed.

In addition to its role in helping to restore or enhance wildlife habitats, WHIP plays an important role in the overall environmental picture.

“The program provides a funding opportunity for landowners to retire many acres of marginal farmland from crop production and into land use practices that can benefit both the landowners and the wildlife that inhabit it,” Reed said. “In many cases such as these, farmers have an opportunity to receive greater income from wildlife-related opportunities such as lease hunting.

“The program provides an excellent opportunity for landowners, large and small, to establish long-term management programs that benefit the environment in general and wildlife in particular.”

Landowners interested in WHIP can contact their local office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service for more details, including information on application procedures.

Tom Merrill writes for the LSU AgCenter.

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