Government doling out $20 mil to save wildlife in the Gulf

On April 20, an oil spill stemming from a sea-floor oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico caused extensive damage to wildlife habitats. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf has made acres of wetlands inhabitable for wildlife and the government is taking action to help protect those creatures affected.

Under a new program offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), farmers, ranchers and other landowners are being given a chance to help save the wildlife affected by the oil spill.

In a recent article in the Paragould Daily Press, Nelson Childers, a biologist with the NCRS in Jonesboro, Ark., said the intent is to provide enough water, food and shelter so that migratory birds won’t have as much need to stop in the gulf region.

“[We’re] flooding fields that haven’t been flooded in the past, giving them more opportunities to have places to go to make them healthy for the journey,” said Childers. “Some of these birds are going down to South America. They’re not going to stay here; they’re going to keep going. We want to make sure they’re healthy enough to skip over that leg (gulf region) of the journey.”

The Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), introduced June 28, will provide $20 million in incentives to farmers, ranchers and landowners in eight states, (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas) to help improve habitat conditions and food sources for migratory birds that have been impacted by the oil spill. They are being paid to keep their rice and soybeans fields as well as crawfish and other aquaculture farms flooded for months longer than usual in hopes that the birds will visit the farms to find food and rest.

MBHI aims to utilize as much as 150,000 acres of private land to maximize migratory bird habitat and food resources. The acreage will provide critical wintering habitat for a significant number of waterfowl, wading birds and other birds.

Eligible lands include wetlands farmed under natural conditions, existing farmed wetlands and prior converted croplands. Rice fields are particularly suited for this initiative, as are aquaculture farms (catfish and crayfish) no longer in production, since they can easily be flooded to provide immediate habitat conditions.

Landowners can contact the nearest NRCS office for more information about the MBHI or visit

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, species may be listed as either endangered or threatened. “Endangered” means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

"It's an opportunity for Louisiana farmers, foresters and ranchers to help create habitat for migratory birds," said Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M. "So far, our landowners have responded in record numbers."

MBHI will be delivered through two components:
  • Component 1: Agriculture lands - NRCS is offering payment incentives to farmers willing to flood their existing farmed wetlands, prior converted cropland, or other lands that can provide immediate habitat for these species.
  • Component 2: Habitat priority areas - this applies to private agricultural lands within and adjacent to the Flyways that enter the Gulf of Mexico.
“This is an urgent situation,” said Keith Jackson, private land programs supervisor for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “Some of the affected birds arrive in Missouri as early as mid-July. Birds ranging from mallards and herons to songbirds are going to find their traditional wintering areas along the Gulf Coast severely impaired by the ongoing oil spill. One important way to help them is to make sure they come through their southward migration in good condition. Enhancing the availability of natural foods and resting areas in Missouri can help them get through the coming winter.”

However, some are not as optimistic that this initiative will work.

In a recent article in Dultuth News Tribune, Dr. Frank Rohwer, scientific director for Delta Waterfowl, based in Bismarck, N.D., questions the initiative. He claims that the program doesn’t address species that use the costal bays and the Gulf.

“In my opinion, it stands very little chance of working,” said Rohwer, who also is a professor at Louisiana State University’s School of Renewable Natural Resources in Baton Rouge, La. “It’s conceivable that it will work for a small fraction of ducks.”

Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources agrees with Rohwer, stating that he doesn’t believe the initiative would shortstop ducks or even redistribute them to the flooded fields on their way south to the Gulf of Mexico.

Do you feel this initiative will work? Are there any alternative measures the government could take to save the wildlife in the Gulf?

*Photo obtained from:

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