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Biologists help sensitive species in Utah

Wildlife across Utah, ranging from wild turkeys and Hungarian partridge, people can hunt to some of the state's most sensitive species, including yellow-billed cukoos and pygmy rabbits -- are receiving a helping hand from four new wildlife biologists.

The biologists are working to get more farmers and ranchers involved in federal Farm Bill programs. These programs have already helped wildlife in Utah and across the country. The biologists are hoping to get even more private landowners in Utah involved.

The new biologists work for the Division of Wildlife Resources and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. They started their assignments Aug. 14.

"The NRCS and the DWR are very excited about the benefits landowners, the land and wildlife in Utah will receive through the work of these new biologists," says Sylvia Gillen, state conservationist for the NRCS. "The work they'll do to address environmental quality issues will result in reduced soil erosion, improved soil health, improved water quality and quantity, and better habitat for wildlife across the state."

The NRCS, DWR, the National Wild Turkey Federation and Sportsmen for Habitat are funding the four biologists through a cooperative agreement. The biologists are DWR employees who will work in NRCS field offices to help NRCS staff improve the quality of conservation planning for wildlife and increase the number of Farm Bill program acres in Utah that are managed to benefit wildlife.

The new biologists will be involved in all facets of delivering Farm Bill programs to farmers and ranchers in Utah.

The biologists will work with NRCS field office staff to explain Farm Bill conservation programs and their benefits to individual farmers and ranchers. Once farmers and ranchers have signed up for the program, the biologists will provide technical assistance to develop and implement plans to improve wildlife habitat and restore wetlands on private land across the state.

The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, or federal Farm Bill, as it's commonly known, is landmark legislation for conservation funding and for focusing on environmental issues that occur mostly on private lands. The conservation provisions of the Farm Bill help farmers and ranchers meet environmental challenges on their land and enhance the long-term quality of the environment and the conservation of natural resources.

Many species of wildlife in Utah, which the state's Wildlife Action Plan focuses on, have already benefited from Farm Bill conservation programs.

For example, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, grasshopper sparrows, bobolinks and Gunnison sage-grouse have benefited from the Farm Bill's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Under the CRP, farmers and ranchers receive money to plant and maintain highly erodible lands in permanent cover for at least 10 years.

A diversity of wildlife, including fish, neotropical migratory birds and waterfowl have also benefited from the Farm Bill's Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) which is designed to restore critical wetland and riparian habitats.

"Wildlife such as the sage-grouse, yellow-billed cukoo, bald eagle and pygmy rabbit, which are of concern in Utah or are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act, will benefit from the increased work to restore and maintain habitat that will happen in Utah through this cooperative effort," says Jim Karpowitz, director of the DWR.

Steven Wilcox is from the NRCS Price Area Office. He has a Bachelor's degree from Utah State University in American Studies and a Master's degree from Bard College in Environmental Policy. Steven has worked with the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in the Forest Inventory Analysis program and with private landowners in Costa Rica to conserve biodiversity associated with a nature trail system in a national park buffer zone. Steven will be relocating to the Price area for his new position. He will assist the Roosevelt, Vernal, Price, Castledale and Monticello NRCS field offices with biology-related planning.

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