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New Conservation Reserve Program Focuses on Coastal Prairies

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USDA’s State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement Targets Texas Coast

RICHMOND, Tx. July 3, 2008 – Texas farmers have a new opportunity to enroll acreage in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's popular Conservation Reserve Program through an initiative that focuses specifically on wildlife - State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement. Signup began June 30 for the Gulf Coast Prairies SAFE program designed to restore 14,400 acres of native grasslands and shallow wetlands along the Texas Gulf Coast.

Texas prairies get a helping hand. - GCJV File Photo

Native grasslands once covered over 6 million acres in coastal Texas, but only 65,000 acres remain. Grasslands and shallow wetlands provide valuable habitat during winter and breeding periods for the mottled duck, northern bobwhite, Attwater’s greater prairie chicken, short-eared owl, Henslow’s sparrow and other bird species.

“The SAFE program benefits wildlife by providing wetlands and grassland cover, and it benefits landowners by providing a source of revenue from marginal crop lands,” notes Dr. Todd Merendino, Ducks Unlimited Manager of Conservation Programs for Texas. “We believe this program will combine financial incentives and conservation benefits that will appeal to landowners.”

USDA offers to program participants a $100/acre sign-up payment, up to 90 percent cost-share for eligible practice installation costs, up to 15 years of annual rental payments and maintenance costs and up to 50 percent cost-share on required mid-contract management practices. Contracts will be held for a minimum of 9 years, but shall not exceed 15 years.

Participation in the Gulf Coast Prairies SAFE program is limited to lands in the following counties: Aransas, Austin, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Harris, Jackson, Jefferson, Lavaca, Liberty, Matagorda, Orange, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Waller and Wharton. This region represents the historic range of coastal prairie and offers the greatest potential to restore grassland and shallow wetlands for prairie-dependent species.

To be eligible, lands must be located within one of the affected counties and meet basic CRP eligibility requirements. Landowners should check with their local Farm Service Agency office to determine individual eligibility.

The initiative partners private landowners with the FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service and numerous other conservation organizations and agencies including Ducks Unlimited, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The Nature Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with almost 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.

Andi Cooper               601-206-5463          acooper@ducks.org

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