A new USDA report highlights crucial ways farmers, ranchers and landowners are participating in USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) partnership initiatives to improve ecosystems, wildlife habitat and water quality on private lands in the Gulf of Mexico region.

"USDA conservation efforts have improved water quality, enhanced wildlife habitats and bolstered agricultural operations in coastal communities," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The newreport “shows the importance of continued partnerships, restoration and conservation of natural resources as they are key to the recovery of American ecosystems and rural economies.”

The report (see here) spotlights more than 20 successful conservation projects put into action by Gulf region producers and forest owners with assistance from NRCS and its partners. Highlights include:

  • Initiatives created in response to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Through one, the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, producers and landowners created "instant wetlands" on more than 470,000 acres to create shallow water areas to provide alternative places for migrating water birds (including waterfowl, shorebirds, and neotropical songbirds).

  • The Everglades Initiative has helped restore and protect more than 95,000 acres of wetland habitat in Florida's northern Everglades as well as create habitat for the endangered Florida panther.
  • The Gulf of Mexico Initiative launched this year has and will help producers in 16 priority watersheds manage land and habitat while maintaining profitability, conserving water, controlling sediment and nutrient runoff, and keeping saltwater out of habitat needed by threatened and endangered species.
  • The Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative is helping producers and landowners along the river install water quality improvement practices that reduce low-oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions in the Gulf.
  • The Working Lands for Wildlife Gopher Tortoise Initiative, a partnership between NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is helping producers and landowners provide habitat for this threatened species vital to longleaf pine ecosystems in six states.