OLYMPIA – Washington farmers have a new opportunity this year to enroll acreage in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s popular Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) through an initiative that focuses specifically on wildlife – State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE).
USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) has teamed with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the Colville Confederated Tribes and other groups and agencies across the country, to address high priority wildlife habitat needs through the new program.
The program targets four habitat types in Washington state: Roosevelt elk forage fields on the Olympic Peninsula; shrub-steppe in parts of Grant, Lincoln and Okanogan counties; Palouse prairie in Whitman County; and Columbia Basin field edges along irrigated cropland in Adams, Franklin and Grant counties. The goal is to restore or enhance 8,200 acres in Washington state.
"Much of the land in Washington is privately owned, so it is imperative we encourage private landowners to create and maintain wildlife habitat," said FSA State Executive Director Jack Silzel.
WDFW Director Dr. Jeff Koenings notes the benefits to wildlife from CRP acreage are well documented for sage grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, waterfowl, pheasants and other species.
“This new initiative allows us to target assistance to landowners for specific types of wildlife conservation on Washington farms to help ensure those benefits continue,” Koenings said.
Koenings applauded the Farm Service Agency and the many public and private partners involved in the SAFE initiative, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, conservation districts, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Intermountain West Joint Venture.
“We recognize that the kinds of projects involved will be more complex and difficult to establish than traditional CRP projects,” he said. “So we especially appreciate the willingness of the Farm Service Agency to work with us for the best wildlife habitat possible.”
Cooperating landowners receive cost-share, incentive, and rental payments in return for contracts to provide specific elements of wildlife habitat.
Producers can submit offers to voluntarily enroll acres in CRP-SAFE contracts for 10 to 15 years with USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. Enrollment for SAFE is non-competitive and producers may sign-up at any time. An end date has not been established for enrollment.
To be eligible, land must have a cropping history and be located within one of the four designated SAFE project areas:
- The Eastern Washington Shrub-Steppe SAFE targets up to 5,200 acres in the Crab Creek drainage in Lincoln, Grant, and Adams counties, the southwest portion of the Colville Indian Reservation in Okanogan County, and the South Moses Coulee in Grant County. Enrolled acreage will provide habitat for shrub-steppe dependent species that have declined because of ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation throughout the West.
- The Palouse Prairie SAFE will enroll up to 2,000 acres primarily in northern and eastern Whitman County to improve and increase habitat for a variety of wildlife species by re-establishing diverse stands of grasses, forbs and shrubs. Converting cropland to fields and corridors of permanent native plant communities will benefit species such as the grasshopper sparrow, savannah sparrow and long-billed curlew. It will also benefit native pollinators, game animals and help preserve rare plants.
- The Columbia Basin SAFE aims for enrolling up to 500 acres within portions of several designated irrigation blocks in Grant, Adams and Franklin counties to benefit wildlife associated with agriculture, such as ring-necked pheasant, California quail, burrowing owl and Washington ground squirrel.
- The Coastal Roosevelt Elk SAFE targets up to 500 acres of high-quality elk winter forage fields in river bottoms and floodplain areas in portions of Grays Harbor, Pacific, Clallam and Mason counties. Decreased productivity due to losses in the quantity and quality of habitat is one reason why Olympic elk herds have been declining, according to WDFW.
Farmers in any of the four areas can find more information about SAFE at their local Farm Service Agency or from their local WDFW regional office or wildlife biologist or at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/safe08.pdf.