Gainesville, FL.—A coordinated effort between the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and landowners across eight states, including Florida, to protect and feed birds migrating toward the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill zone in the Gulf of Mexico has more than tripled expectations, enrolling more than 470,000 acres. Wildlife experts estimate more than 50 million birds migrate through the Mississippi, Central, and Eastern Flyways each fall and spring.
“Florida NRCS has obligated almost $139,000 through 9 contracts with landowners in the Florida panhandle,” said Jeffrey Woods, NRCS acting state conservationist for Florida. “Private landowners play a critically important role in protecting wildlife and I am proud that landowners in Florida stepped up to help increase migratory bird habitat and protect wildlife from any lingering effects from the oil spill.”
The Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative is an unprecedented effort created by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that began on June 28, 2010, when oil was still spilling from the Deepwater Horizon well. The initiative mobilized private landowners to help create alternative and additional habitats to provide healthy food and resting areas for shorebirds, waterfowl and other birds headed for the Gulf. The initial goal was to enroll 150,000 acres in the eight states. After landowners expressed extremely strong interest in the program, funding was doubled to $40 million enabling enrollment to reach a total over three times the initial goal.
The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been conducting similar work primarily on Federal lands adjacent to the spill impact zone in order to minimize potential bird contact with contaminated areas and help address long term objectives for habitat conservation along the entire Gulf Coast. Much of the work has been funded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Recovered Oil Fund, as well as other privately donated funds.
Florida lands are being flooded carefully with varying water levels and planted with a variety of vegetation to provide food and habitat for the wide range of bird species that might stop to refuel. Although the MBHI initiative was initially created in response to the oil spill, landowners are providing food at a critical time.
Current drought conditions in the Gulf region combined with decades of wetland losses are resulting in fewer food resources and habitat compared with previous years.
Presently, the FWS is calculating the number of oiled acres impacting available food and habitat for migratory birds as part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment process. This is an action taken after every spill to quantify the environmental damages and the cost to restore natural resources to pre-spill conditions.
This year represents the 75th year of NRCS helping people help the land. Since its inception in 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests.