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Funds for Wildlife: Government Programs Update

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Posted Feb. 1, 1998

There are several programs in Oklahoma that offer financial and technical assistance to landowners. In 1998, four of the programs are slated to receive approximately 8 million dollars to be allocated toward natural resource improvement. The programs are Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), and the Forestry Incentives Program (FIP).

Oklahoma will receive $860,000 for the WHIP. Funding for WHIP comes from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation. Landowners will be able to sign up for the program throughout the year beginning February 17. For consideration, landowners are required to work with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to draw up a habitat development plan. The first review of plans will begin about six weeks after initial sign up. Thereafter, projects will be reviewed on a monthly basis.

Under WHIP, the USDA agrees to pay up to 75% of the cost of the approved project. The remaining 25% can be funded by the landowner, come from other sources such as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation's WHIP, or be "in kind" such as labor and materials provided by the landowner.

There is a funding limit of $10,000 per landowner. Contracts generally last a minimum of 10 years and the landowner agrees to maintain cost shared projects for the length of the contract. WHIP will emphasize upland wildlife habitat improvement.

Funded practices may include but are not limited to water development for wildlife, fencing existing ponds and installing tanks below the dam, native grass seeding, establishing fire breaks, tree and shrub planting, riparian corridor development, and mechanical brush management.

Four of USDA's conservation programs are combined in EQIP: the Agricultural Conservation Program, Water Quality Incentives Program, Great Plains Conservation Program, and the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program. Nationally, half of EQIP funding is targeted to livestock related natural resource problems and the other half to more general conservation practices.

Oklahoma's expected allocation for EQIP is about $3.5 million in 1998. Funding along with completed rules and regulations for EQIP are expected by the end of January. Funding for EQIP also comes from USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation.

The majority of the funding will be directed toward 18 priority areas scattered across the state. A committee composed of individuals representing several agencies established these priority areas. Check with your local NRCS, Cooperative Extension Service, or Conservation District office to determine if you are located in a priority area.

Emphasis in priority areas will be placed on resource management issues that can be addressed in a three- to four-year period, are watershed based, and are multi-county. Eligibility is limited to persons who are engaged in livestock or agricultural production on cropland, grazingland (rangeland & pastureland), forestland, and other farm or ranch land identified in priority areas. The focus for funding on cropland will be on revegetation and the focus for funding on grazinglands will be on management of brush and weed invasion. Contracts under EQIP can range from five to 10 years, provide cost share payments of up to 75%, and incentive payments of up to 100%. Cost share payments may include but are not limited to establishing grassed waterways, filter strips, or capping abandoned wells.

Incentive payments are made to encourage land management practices such as nutrient management, manure management, integrated pest management, wildlife habitat management, and in some cases fence establishment to enhance grazing management. Incentive payments can cover the producer's cost for up to three years. Total cost share and incentive payments are limited to $10,000 per person per year and $50,000 over the length of the contract.

There is about $700,000 set aside for funding projects outside the 18 priority areas. Emphasis for these projects will be on four natural resource concerns: 1) soil erosion on cropland and forests, 2) eastern red cedar and mesquite management, 3) fish and wildlife habitat fragmentation, 4) confined animal operations. New information about EQIP can be found soon on the web site: www.ok.nrcs.usda.gov.

The WRP offers landowners continuous sign up. Funding in Oklahoma to date is $12.9 million. Another three to four million is expected for 1998. The primary goal of this program is to restore marginal agricultural lands currently in use to wetlands. This program offers landowners three options: permanent easements, 30-year easements, and restoration cost share agreements of a minimum 10-year duration.

Permanent easements are purchased based on the lesser of the agricultural value of the land, an established payment cap, or an amount offered by the landowner. WRP will pay all of the restoration costs above and beyond any easement payments as well as any closing costs.

The 30-year easement is identical to the permanent easement except that contracts are 30 years in duration and payments are 75% of what a permanent easement would be. Under the 30-year easement, WRP also pays 75% of the restoration costs.

Restoration cost share agreements are generally for a minimum of 10 years. Restoration activities are the same as for the permanent and 30-year easements and WRP will pay up to 75% of costs. This agreement does not place an easement on the property. The function of restoration cost share agreements is similar to WHIP

Participants will be required to pay taxes on the easement payment. They will also continue to pay property tax. For each acre of restorable wetland easement purchased, one acre of adjoining upland easement can be purchased as well. The landowner is required to carry out management practices defined in the management plan developed in consultation with NRCS. Easement payments are only for the agricultural value of the land. The landowner retains all other rights and privileges associated with owning land including recreational leasing.

Twelve counties in southeastern Oklahoma qualify for FIP funds. Oklahoma's share of FIP money will be about $60,000 in 1998. To be eligible a landowner must own more than 1,000 acres of forestland, be a private landowner, have land suitable for converting into forest, and have land that is capable of producing marketable timber crops. Management practices approved under FIP may include tree planting, site preparation for natural regeneration, and improvement of existing forests. Contact Mike Barrick with the Forestry Department at 918-423-8730 to determine the eligibility of your land.

For more detailed information about any of these programs, contact your local NRCS, Oklahoma Forestry Services, Cooperative Extension Service, or local conservation district. Information to produce this article came from personal communication with Mr. Steve Tully and Mr. Kevin Norton with the NRCS in Stillwater and USDA fact sheets.