Federal grant to benefit bird conservation

$100,000 is earmarked for surveying local bird populations and creating management conservation plans.
Tuesday, December 30, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:47 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Missouri Bird Conservation Initiative is among the benefactors of more than $1.23 million in federal funds coming to Missouri for conservation projects.

The bird initiative is in line for $100,000 of the federal conservation money. The coalition of 28 organizations — from hunting groups to those who enjoy bird watching — will survey local bird populations and create management conservation plans for Missouri birds.

“We are going to bring everyone together that is interested in birds to look at ways to prevent species from becoming endangered,” said Richard Thom, wildlife diversity chief with the state Department of Conservation.

The grant money originated when President Bush signed the 2004 interior appropriations bill in November. It included $70 million for conservation efforts nationwide.

Each state is allotted a certain amount of money based on land area and population. The allotment is for matching nonfederal money. This year, as it has during the three previous years the grants have been available, Missouri is using its entire allotment.

“The great thing about this grant is that it looks to the state to set the priorities,” Thom said. “The state gets to determine what conservation projects are needed.”

Thom also said an important aspect of the grant is its focus on all animals, not just endangered species or ones managed for sport.

“This money is for that big chunk of wildlife that otherwise falls through the cracks,” he said.

Dan Zekor, federal aid coordinator at the conservation department, reported that Missouri received $1.56 million of the federal conservation money for 2002 and $1.15 million for 2003. The amount varies, he said, depending on the national budget.

The state will use the funds to work with agencies such as Quail Unlimited, the Missouri Audubon Society, the Missouri Botanical Gardens and the Nature Conservancy.

“These dollars are critical,” said Roger Still, executive director of Audubon Missouri, one of the groups involved in the initiative to preserve bird species and habitats.

Still said he wasn’t sure what recommendations members of the initiative will come up with for the money, but he said collaboration will be encouraged.

“The driving purpose of the Initiative is to get more and more groups to work together to improve Missouri conservation,” he said.

Organizations will often use their own money for projects and the state will provide matching funds. Audubon has received state grants for projects such as $35,000 for a nature center program focusing on the rare chert glades in Wildcat Park near Joplin.

Other projects being planned include buying more native prairie lands to add to conservation areas. Prairie Forks Conservation Area, east of Columbia, benefited from a previous grant of $40,000 through the Missouri Prairie Foundation.

“We gave them the grant, then they made available their expertise and labor,” said Dennis Figg, a wildlife program supervisor at the conservation department.

Another project under way is a 10-year conservation plan for Missouri that will be completed in October 2005. Each state must complete a plan to remain eligible for money in the future.

The state’s goals for the money, Thom said, is “to make habitat friendly for at-risk species and keep animals off the endangered-species list.”

The state also tries to work with communities on projects such as parks. In previous years, communities have been given technical assistance in identifying and planting native plants and building wooded areas in parks.

“Parks can be so much more than picnic benches and baseball fields,” Thom said.

The federal conservation funds are being championed by a national coalition called Teaming with Wildlife, which includes more than 3,000 members. For the past eight years, the coalition has pushed Congress to increase conservation spending. The amount has been increasing, and this year’s national allotment was $5 million more than last year.

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