Oil spill brings push for wetlands habitat

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 | 10:26 a.m. CDT

ALEXANDRIA, La. — The Gulf of Mexico oil spill prompts a new push to quickly increase wetlands habitat for birds migrating toward the Gulf of Mexico.

"More than 50 million migratory birds traveling south in coming months will instinctively head toward the marshes and coastlands of the northern Gulf of Mexico," said Kevin Norton, state conservationist for Louisiana in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

"With some marshes and shorelines already degraded and the potential for larger-scale oil impacts in the coming months, it is essential that we provide inland and coastal food, water and cover for migratory birds before they reach the oil-impacted areas," he said Monday.

The conservation service said up to $20 million is available through three existing programs for farmers, ranchers and other landowners in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

They'll have to apply by Aug. 1 to get money to create or enhance areas that will attract waterfowl such as ducks and geese; water birds such as grebes, coots and guls; shore birds including plovers and sandpipers, and wading birds such as ibis, herons and egrets.

Shallow water, mudflat and sandflat habitats all are needed, a news release said.

"Of special interest are agricultural lands that contain wetlands farmed under natural conditions and prior converted croplands. Rice fields are particularly well-suited for this initiative, as are catfish and crawfish farms," it said.

About $10 million of the money is through the Wetlands Reserve Program, which provides know-how and money for easements in which landowners protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their property. It's available in five of the states: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri.

Another $7 million is through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and $3 million through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program.

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