Today is National Endangered Species Day, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is spotlighting how farmers, ranchers and forest landowners make voluntary improvements to their land, helping save habitats for at-risk species.
Owners and managers of working lands coordinate with NRCS through the agency’s Working Lands for Wildlife partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create and enhance wildlife habitat for many different species, including those facing population troubles. This work helps reverse population declines of seven wildlife species targeted in the partnership as well as provides benefits to other wildlife.
Learn more about the seven species in Working Lands for Wildlife:
1) Lesser Prairie-Chicken: The lesser prairie-chicken is an iconic grassland-nesting bird of the southern Great Plains, found in Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. This bird provides astonishing wildlife viewing as they perform unique mating rituals. A threatened keystone species to quail, pheasants and other wildlife, farmers and ranchers have worked with NRCS to restore more than 1 million acres of its habitat while sustaining their operations.
2) New England Cottontail: This rare rabbit can be found east of the Hudson River in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Maine. It favors habitat with thick, tangled plants, or thickets, which also benefits other species like deer and wild turkey. Private landowners are working with NRCS to create and enhance nearly 2,500 acres by re-establishing woody plants and managing weeds and invasive plants. The thickets help ensure the New England cottontail isn’t forced to feed in areas with threats of predators.
3) Southwestern Willow Flycatcher: Marked by their “fitz bew” song from other willow flycatchers, the southwestern willow flycatcher breeds in the arid climate of the southwestern United States. This endangered bird lives in the forested areas along streams and rivers, where they hunt for insects. Owners and managers of private lands are working with NRCS to combat its habitat loss by planting natives, removing invasive weeds, preventing fires and reconnecting rivers to natural floodplains.
4) Greater Sage Grouse: The greater sage grouse lives in the sagebrush habitat of open grasslands in parts of 11 western states. The largest grouse in North America, this at-risk bird can grow as much as 30 inches in length and up to two feet tall. As 40 percent of its habitat sits on private lands, NRCS and private landowners have tripled its chances of a comeback by removing 276,000 acres of invasive conifers, among other conservation activities.
5) Gopher Tortoise: The gopher tortoise is the keystone species of longleaf pine forests, since its burrows provide homes for more than 300 other species. Gopher tortoises are fairly elusive creatures. Usually the only sign you see of them is their burrows or ravaged foliage. NRCS works with forest landowners to restore longleaf forests through prescribed burning, replanting trees and other habitat management practices.
6) Bog Turtle: This semi-aquatic turtle is the smallest in the United States. It shares the same life story as a number of other remarkable creatures – it’s federally listed as a threatened species. The bog turtle’s wetland home has critically diminished because of severe development, which causes draining and filling of its habitat. Bog turtles serve as good indicators of water quality and wetland function. Applying conservation practices similar to the New England cottontail gives the bog turtle better odds at living their life expectancy of up to 40 years.
7) Golden Winged Warbler: The Upper Midwest and Appalachian Mountains were once a fortress for this migratory bird. Like others, the golden winged warbler has experienced threats of degradation to their shrubby, thicket habitat, which has caused its drastic population decline. Through NRCS’ Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative, private landowners have enhanced about 10,000 acres of early successional habitat for this at-risk songbird species.
Farmers and ranchers continue down the road of voluntary conservation through Working Lands for Wildlife to help combat threats to these seven species by restoring and protecting their habitats that will benefit other species with similar habitat needs.