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Financial Assistance

Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program

WHIP is a new provision that will help landowners improve wildlife habitat on private lands. The program will have $50 million for wildlife habitat improvement. Cost-sharing to landowners is provided for developing habitat for upland wildlife, wetland wildlife, endangered species, fisheries and other wildlife. WHIP provides for consulting with State Technical Committees to set priorities for cost-share measures and habitat development projects.

Summer TanagerAccording to Senator Thad Cochran, one of the goals of the Conservation Title of the 1996 Farm Bill was to achieve the greatest amount of conservation with the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars. "Not all conservation gains are confined to expensive crop retirement programs. Better and more thoughtful agricultural practices are improving conservation too. Cost-share programs are a good example of the bill's effort to achieve more habitat for wildlife with less dollars. With this concept in mind, the Farm Bill includes a provision, which I introduced, to create incentives for landowners to voluntarily implement various land management practices to improve wildlife habitat," continued Cochran.

The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), the provision Cochran introduced, is building a new partnership among wildlife, agriculture and silviculture that promotes innovation and flexibility on farm and forest lands. It is enhancing and restoring upland and wetland wildlife, threatened and endangered species, fisheries and other types of wildlife habitat. WHIP is placing an emphasis on filling gaps among other conservation programs, especially those that other programs are not filling. It is focusing on wildlife habitat enhancement and restoration efforts that have the greatest opportunity for wildlife utilization/population expansion.

This program is different than most programs because it indicates an underlying shift from only providing incentives for land retirement to placing an emphasis on land management practices. It is making cost-share payments, not rental or easement payments, to landowners.

Initial participation in WHIP has greatly exceeded the funds available and all of the funds for the program were allocated by the end of 1999. Mississippi ranks second in the nation in WHIP enrollment. Due to the importance of WHIP to the state and the nation, Senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott introduced an amendment to the FY 2001 Agricultural Appropriations Bill that resulted in additional funding for WHIP.

Rabbit HuntersThe combined efforts of Senators Cochran and Lott that "rescued" WHIP is very much appreciated. This funding for WHIP will develop habitat on over 650,000 acres.

Upon the passing of the amended Bill, Senator Cochran said, "These conservation funds provide technical assistance and cost-sharing for programs which help landowners protect our valuable natural resources. I am particularly pleased that the Senate approved additional funds for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program."

According to Senator Lott, "I am pleased to join Senator Cochran in supporting the WHIP portion of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill. This cost-effective program is important in preserving Mississippi's fish and wildlife resources."

The participant and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for implementing the program, must enter into an agreement to implement the fish and/or wildlife practices desired by the participant and NRCS. Participants in these programs must own or control land and agree to prepare and implement a management plan which contains certain conservation practices to be installed on the land. The plan describes the landowner's goals for conservation, including the practices necessary to achieve such goals.

NRCS agrees to provide the necessary technical assistance and pay 75 percent of the cost of installing the practices. Approval may be granted for cost-share assistance for not more than $10,000. Under WHIP, applications are ranked and point values are assigned to the land that is submitted for financial assistance. Applications with the most points will be funded.

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Practices in these programs will help provide cover for wildlife, including the planting of trees, as well as nesting and brood rearing habitat for species like turkey and quail. Aquatic habitats and water quality can be improved by establishing habitat adjacent to streams. Wildlife habitat can also be improved through these programs by creating small openings in forest stands. Another priority is to establish woody and/or grass corridors.

According to Cochran, "WHIP will provide meaningful benefits to the wildlife enthusiasts around the nation. For example, the winter impoundment of rice fields has created much needed habitat for ducks, geese and other wetland-related wildlife. WHIP will also aid landowners in developing habitat for deer, turkey, quail, black bear and fish. Ultimately, this effort will result in better opportunities for hunting, fishing and viewing wildlife."

To learn more about WHIP, contact your local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service or your local U.S. Department of Agriculture Service Center.

Photos by Michael Kelly

 

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