November 5, 1997

For more information contact:
Tony Petrongolo at 609-984-1401

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish, Game and Wildlife in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will begin efforts to implement their new Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP). Continuous sign-up for the voluntary program began October 14.

"WHIP provides both technical assistance and cost-sharing for landowners and schools who want to develop or improve wildlife habitat," said Division Director Bob McDowell. "We are pleased to offer our support to the many conservation organizations committed to this worthwhile program, including the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, New Jersey Audubon Society, and the New Jersey Chapters of both Trout and Quail Unlimited."

Priority projects for WHIP include focusing assistance on wildlife impacted by agriculture such as bog turtles, bobwhite quail and grassland birds; assisting wildlife in three critical priority regions of the state (the Wallkill River Watershed in Sussex County, the Inner Coastal Plains from Mercer to Cumberland County, and the area comprising lower Cape May County); developing wildlife habitat on school grounds; enhancing fish habitat in streams; and controlling invasive exotic vegetation in woodlands, wetlands and open areas.

Approximately $130,000 has been allocated for WHIP cost-share payments to landowners in New Jersey. NRCS will provide technical assistance to help landowners develop wildlife habitat improvement goals, a list of conservation practices with a schedule for implementation and actions needed to maintain the habitat for up to 10 years. Landowners who elect to participate in the voluntary program must agree to maintain their cost-shared practices and allow NRCS access to monitor the effectiveness of the program.

Among the species targeted by WHIP include wildlife affected by agriculture. With the conversion of farms to housing, wildlife traditionally associated with agriculture has declined throughout the state. In addition, agriculture has changed significantly over the past 40 years. Growers tend to use every acre to produce a crop and often cannot afford to keep non-productive areas like field borders, hedgerows and fallow fields which provide wildlife with food and shelter. WHIP helps farmers provide habitat for declining wildlife, while also maintaining the farm's economic productivity.

Practices geared toward fostering grassland birds (many of which are endangered) and bobwhite quail, include planting native grasses in hayfields and delaying mowing until the birds have finished nesting. Controlling woody vegetation and managing water levels are practices designed to improve wetlands for endangered bog turtles.

The priority regions were designated because of location and habitat types. Lower Cape May County is recognized as one of the world's most significant regions for migratory birds. Each fall, migratory birds and butterflies concentrate on the tip of the Cape and rely on the nutrients found in native fruit and flowering trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants for the difficult flight across the Delaware Bay.

According to NRCS Resource Conservationist Tim Dunne, nearly 40 percent of the area's original wildlife habitat has been lost over the last two decades. "We must re-establish native plants to provide food for migrant species and create buffers between developed areas and protected habitat," he said. "We also need to concentrate on improving existing habitat in these already developed areas."

The Inner Coastal Plain (parts of Burlington, Mercer, Camden, Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties) includes approximately 350,000 acres of agricultural land -- much of it fruit, vegetable, grain, nursery and livestock operations. The area was selected as a priority region since more than 230 bird species depend upon the habitats found there, including six species of state threatened or endangered grassland birds.

The 112,000-acre Wallkill River Watershed is located in northern Sussex County. It was selected as a priority area because it is an active dairy region and includes important wetlands, grasslands and woodlands. Nineteen species of state threatened or endangered wildlife use the area. WHIP projects in this region will complement habitat improvement efforts on the 7,500-acre Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge. Grassland birds will be the target of habitat improvement efforts here, as well as in the Inner Coastal Plain.

WHIP funds will be appropriated to schools on a competitive cost-share basis for projects that teachers and students undertake to improve wildlife habitat. Teachers applying for cost-share assistance must have attended a Division-sponsored WILD School Site Workshop and must demonstrate a community effort to improve wildlife habitat. Up to $2,500 will be reimbursed for each project, with a total of $15,000 allocated for this portion of WHIP.

Streams throughout the state will also be eligible for improvements under WHIP. In many urban areas, stream banks are experiencing extensive erosion from a lack of vegetation caused by damaging run-off from pavement. Projects that restore this vegetation and stabilize the stream bank are eligible for funding. By providing shade, vegetation allows stream temperatures to stay cooler, resulting in less stress on the fish. It also helps retain soil, keeping it out of the stream where it can be harmful to fish, various aquatic insects and plants. Structures may also be placed in the stream to provide shade and additional habitat for insects and algae which form the base of the stream food chain.

Controlling invasive exotic vegetation and helping maintain the original integrity of plant and wildlife communities is another area targeted for WHIP assistance. Plants like phragmites, purple loosestrife, Asiatic bittersweet and Japanese barberry have been introduced accidentally from other countries. Finding no natural enemies to curb their growth, these species rapidly colonize large acreage by overcoming native plants. They often have very little wildlife value, degrade existing vegetation and can cause extensive economic damage. Landowners who wish to participate in this aspect of WHIP can receive funding for methods and approved technology used to control invasive exotic vegetation.

For more information, or to sign up for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, contact your local USDA Service Center listed in the telephone book under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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