USDA, Landowners Partner to Aid Gulf Recovery

John DavisAgribusiness, Conservation, Land, USDA

usda-logoPrivate landowners have become important partners with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to aid in the recovery of the Gulf of Mexico. This USDA news release says in the five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, America’s farmers, ranchers and forest managers teamed up with the government to put proven conservation efforts on private lands to work to clean up and conserve water, restore habitat and strengthen agricultural operations in the region.

“With USDA’s partnership, America’s producers stepped forward to help in a time of need,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “They created habitat for birds migrating south to provide an alternative to coastal habitats impacted by the spill, and they made conservation improvements to their farms, ranches and forests to help improve water, air and soil quality and restore habitats.”

Landowners in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to make conservation improvements on more than 22 million acres during fiscal years 2010-2014. An important part of this work was executed through targeted, landscape-level initiatives, such as the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) and Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI).

Just weeks after the spill, NRCS launched MBHI, an effort to aid landowners in creating alternative habitat for migratory birds. Landowners in an eight-state area created 470,000 acres of habitat for the millions of migratory birds, including ducks, geese and shorebirds, that travel the Mississippi Flyway each year to winter in Gulf of Mexico-area ecosystems, or in the case of many shorebirds, Central and South America. A recent study by Mississippi State University has shown the effectiveness of this effort.

A targeted project by NRCS called GoMI was launched three years ago to accelerate conservation to Gulf-area watersheds most in need. It helped landowners trap and reduce runoff of nutrients and sediment, which can impair water quality, and restore habitat on about 60,000 acres during fiscal 2012-2014.

A number of other landscape-level efforts enabled producers to improve quality of water and habitat downstream in the Gulf region, including the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, National Water Quality Initiative, Everglades Initiative and Longleaf Pine Initiative.