USDA Issues Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program Final Rule
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) today issued a final rule for the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) that adds a new national priority for restoration and enhancement of wildlife habitat.
"WHIP helps our nation's landowners address one of the biggest challenges of our day-- restoring fish and wildlife habitats, and benefitting at-risk species," said NRCS Chief Dave White. "In keeping with our new national priority, we'll be focusing our efforts on filling in habitat areas to provide continuous habitat for migrating species."
The new WHIP national priority is "to protect, restore, develop, or enhance important migration and other movement corridors for wildlife." This priority complements the four existing national WHIP priorities that focus on activities to benefit native fish and wildlife habitats, at-risk species, and declining or important aquatic wildlife species, in addition to reducing the impacts of invasive species on fish and wildlife habitat.
Authorized by the 2008 Farm Bill, WHIP is a voluntary program for conservation-minded landowners who want to develop and improve fish and wildlife habitat on agricultural land, nonindustrial private forest land, and Indian land. Since WHIP was first established in 1997 to the end of fiscal year (FY) 2010, more than 37,000 WHIP agreements were in place and resulting in habitat improvements on approximately 6.5 million acres nationwide.
The final rule incorporates a number of other changes to the original program, including:
*Restricting eligible lands to private agricultural land, nonindustrial private forest lands, and Tribal land;
*Clarifying that pivot corners and irregular areas are eligible habitat;
*Increasing the proportion of annual funds available for long-term agreements (15 years or longer) to 25 percent;
*Providing the Secretary of Agriculture discretionary authority to address state, regional, and national conservation priorities; and
*Establishing a $50,000 annual payment limit per person or legal entity.
Applications are accepted continuously and are ranked by the State Conservationist, based upon criteria developed with input from the state technical committee. The program is available in all 50 states and territories.
WHIP applications must address traditional natural resource issues such as water quantity, water quality, grazing lands, forest health, soil management, emerging natural resource issues, and climate change.
USDA published an interim final rule for WHIP on January 16, 2009, and published amendments to the interim final rule on March 12, 2009, and July 15, 2009, each time soliciting public comments.
Additional information about WHIP is available at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/whip/. To view the final rule, go to www.regulations.gov.
2010 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.
For more information about NRCS conservation programs, visit: www.nrcs.usda.gov, or the nearest USDA Service Center in your area.