“For farmers, ranchers and others interested in conservation, this is an exciting addition to this popular conservation program,” Veneman said. “We can cost share on recurring practices over a longer period and can meet the need in the wildlife community for such longer-term planning.”

As part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, WHIP now includes the option of a 15-year agreement, in addition to the standard five and 10-year agreements, for landowners who voluntarily limit future use of their land in order to develop upland, wetland, riparian and aquatic habitat areas.

WHIP is a voluntary conservation program, reauthorized in the 2002 farm bill, that provides technical and financial assistance to landowners and others to develop upland, wetland, riparian and aquatic habitat areas on their property. The program provides full flexibility to landowners, offering one-year agreements, 5- to 10-year agreements and the new 15-year or longer agreements.

Since WHIP began in 1998, nearly 11,000 participants have enrolled more than 1.6 million acres into the program.

The longer-term agreements were adopted in the new farm bill to allow for the long-term protection of habitat. These agreements fund up to 100 percent for implementing practices specifically targeted to restore and protect essential plant and animal habitat.

This gives landowners the ability to implement beneficial wildlife habitat practices that do not offer economic return, such as for non-game declining species.

The longer-term agreements also may provide greater opportunities for landowners to avail themselves of certain protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Natural Resource Conservation Service state conservationists, with advice from their state technical committee, will identify essential plant and animal habitat within the state that is eligible for increased cost-share assistance.

Up to 15 percent of a state's WHIP allocation may be used to enroll agreements under this new 15-year WHIP agreement option.

Essential plant and animal habitat includes critical habitat designated under federal or state law, locations of listed or candidate species that can be improved with specific practices, or particularly rare and unique habitats that could support at-risk species.

Additional information on WHIP and other conservation programs is available on the Web at www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/farmbill/2002/products.html. Information on the 2002 farm bill is available at www.usda.gov/farmbill.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com