Baby Gopher Tortoise. Credit: USFWS Southeast/Flickr

Without the help of a sign or fence, it can be hard to see exactly where public land ends and privately-owned land begins. Wildlife can’t seem to tell the difference either. To a bird, a tree is a tree, regardless of who owns the land. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), nearly two thirds of all threatened or endangered species are on private lands. That’s why it’s so important that there are programs to help protect critters that find shelter on private lands.

For example, the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) works with private landowners to help protect habitat on their property. WHIP is administered by NRCS and is authorized through the 2008 Farm Bill. The program offers incentives such as technical and financial assistance to landowners who voluntarily agree to use conservation practices that will restore wildlife habitat on their land. Sounds like a win-win situation!

This Sunday, even more good news was announced. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Director Dan Ashe and NRCS Chief Dave White unveiled a historic agreement between the agencies. Building upon the success of WHIP, a new partnership project called Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) will take action to improve the habitats of seven high priority at-risk and vulnerable game species:

New England Cottontail. Credit: U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region/Flickr
  • Lesser Prairie Chicken
  • New England Cottontail
  • Southwestern Willow Flycatcher
  • Greater Sage Grouse
  • Gopher Tortoise
  • Bog Turtle
  • Golden-Winged Warbler

Like WHIP, participating landowners will voluntarily agree to use appropriate conservation practices on their land in order to protect wildlife habitat. Thanks to the new partnership, WLFW will ensure that these working lands stay in production while also staying in accordance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Ashe notes that this new partnership shows that wildlife conservation efforts and working landscapes can both support and benefit each other. WLFW will give landowners peace of mind, knowing that their land will receive long-term protection and that they are helping to preserve wildlife habitat.

The FWS and NRCS plan to partner with several state and local entities to implement the project. American Forests is encouraged to see collaborative efforts like this new partnership that benefit both people and wildlife that depend on forests. Check out more of American Forests’ policy work on wildlife habitat.