Because interest by landowners to participate in the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) has been vast, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) began priority ranking of the applications on July 23. The scheduled cutoff date is Aug. 1.

"We are grateful and proud of Arkansas farmers and landowners for stepping up to help with this issue that is of such importance to the state and nation," said Arkansas Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Michael Sullivan.

Through the initiative, NRCS will partner with producers to manage portions of their land to provide additional food and habitat for migrating birds. It is estimated that 40 million to 50 million birds migrate annually down the Mississippi Alluvial Valley to southern climes.

NRCS in Arkansas will provide support to landowners through two components — one for private agricultural lands and another for lands enrolled in NRCS' Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).

"There is more interest in participating in the initiative than available funding," said Sullivan. "Although the next priority ranking of applications will begin July 23, the application period will remain open until Aug. 1 to ensure everyone interested in participating has a chance to be a part of this initiative and to make certain all available land has been identified so we can make the right ranking decisions."

Through the agricultural lands component, NRCS will provide payment incentives for flooding existing farmed wetlands, prior-converted croplands, or other lands that can provide immediate habitat. The WRP component addresses food habitat needs for species expected to be significantly impacted on WRP easement land. It will provide habitat features that are appropriate for the area and habitat management methods that are not currently in use.

In addition, NRCS is using its Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program to help producers enhance habitat by flooding fields and establishing or maintaining vegetation for cover and food.

NRCS is working with several partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, USA Rice, and the National Cotton Council.

On June 22, NRCS announced the initiative to try to minimize the likelihood of southward migrating birds coming into contact with or using oil impacted areas. The initiative will also try to ensure adequate food sources are available to compensate for food resources that may be reduced, contaminated or eliminated because of the oil spill.

NRCS is a technical agency of the USDA that works one-on-one with America's farmers and ranchers, primarily on privately-owned lands, to help them in their efforts to improve and protect the natural resources. NRCS is celebrating 75 years of helping people help the land. Since 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests.