Providing bat, owl, raptor, and bird habitat are good conservation practices, but they come with a cost. Growers must be able to pay for their conservation efforts and stay in business, says a habitat biologist.

"It’s about economics, as well as some altruistic benefits for wildlife," said Jeremy Maestas, Oregon’s upland habitat biologist. Fortunately for growers, assistance and funding to improve wildlife habitat are available from federal conservation and natural resource programs.

Both planning and technical assistance for habitat improvement are available to growers from the local Natural Resource Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local soil and water conservation districts. Also, the NRCS can perform a habitat inventory and survey what species of plant and wildlife are there and what species are missing, Maestas said.

"We are available, pretty much with no strings attached, to talk with you and help you come up with a plan," he said, adding that staff can help in the design and placement of things like bat and barn owl boxes.

Several existing conservation programs were extended in the 2008 Farm Bill. All are voluntary programs with cost-sharing financial assistance for landowners who want to address natural resource issues. Most program funding is competitive; proposed projects are ranked according to their environmental benefits by local Farm Service Agency staff and funded accordingly.

Maestas, who is based in Redmond, Oregon, gave examples of funded conservation projects during a workshop on beneficial large organisms (bats, barn owls, raptors, and bluebirds) at The Dalles, Oregon. Project examples include installing artificial habitat structures, such as bird and bat boxes; planting vegetation to increase plant biodiversity; and developing water for wildlife through wetlands, ponds, and water troughs.

Local help

He encouraged growers to visit their local USDA service center to discuss ideas for conservation practices and review deadlines for program funding. Staff can help growers develop a plan, estimate costs, and fill out applications for programs.

He also urges farmers to explore cost-sharing opportunities with local soil and water conservation districts that may have grants for small projects.

Additionally, volunteer organizations like the Boy Scouts or community colleges can play a part in wildlife habitat programs, by building bat and barn owl boxes and providing labor to install structures. —M. Hansen

Funding opportunities through federal programs include:

Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP)

• Workhorse of federal programs. Has most of the money to give out

• Only agricultural producers and working agricultural land are eligible

• One-time payments (up to 50 percent of the cost) and annual incentive payments for management provided

• Funds wide variety of projects, including drip irrigation,

soil erosion improvement, integrated pest management practices, etc.

Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program

• Focuses on creating high-quality habitat

• Only private agricultural lands eligible

• Very competitive

• Provides one-time cost-sharing payments—no annual incentive payments for management

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)

• Targets restoration of riparian areas adjacent to streams

• Crop and pasture lands owned or farmed for at least one year eligible

• Non-competitive program

• Goal is to take riparian areas out of production for 10-15 years, paying producer rent

• Cost sharing available for additional conservation practices; provides annual payments for maintenance

For more information on assistance programs, visit www.fas. —M. Hansen