NRCS urges Caribbean farmers, forest landowners to apply for funds
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is encouraging Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands farmers and forest landowners to conserve habitat for pollinators and wildlife through our Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s (EQIP) Wildlife and Forestry Initiatives.
Applying conservation practices on private lands will benefit native plants and wildlife and provide farmers and forest landowners with ecosystem services like pest control, soil fertility and clean water, the agency noted.
EQIP targets 10% of its funding to wildlife habitat creation, restoration, or enhancement. EQIP provides financial incentives for cropland, pastureland, and forestland to provide long-term benefits to natural resources and production, but our clients may not be as familiar with the habitat aspect of the program.
The agency’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) also supports wildlife and forestry conservation.
“Healthy pollinators and wildlife habitat are essential for agricultural sustainability. Forest improvement is possible and can play an important role in preserving your agriculture business by increasing profit and climate change resiliency, reducing impacts from drought and windstorms,” the NRCS said.
NRCS helps farmers and landowners apply agroforestry, forestry, and wildlife habitat practices like structures for wildlife, hedgerow planting, silvopasture, riparian forest buffers, wildlife habitat planting, upland and wetland wildlife habitat management, forest stand improvement, tree and shrub establishment, and multi-story cropping.
These conservation practices promote connectivity between private and public lands, restore ecosystem functionality, mitigate storm damage, and provide habitat for pollinators and critical wildlife species.
“There’s never been more opportunity than now,” said NRCS Caribbean Area Director, Luis Cruz-Arroyo, adding that “Landowners may not know how to get started or they’re just not aware of what’s available. We’re encouraging our farmers and forest landowners to call their local NRCS Field Office to find out how we can help them improve their land.”
NRCS is also working with the USDA Forest Service (USFS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and local government agencies and nonprofits to improve forest ecosystem health and resiliency through the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative (Joint Chiefs) to protect and improve forest habitat in Puerto Rico.
Joint Chiefs’ projects focus on reducing wildfire threats, protecting water quality and supply, establishing biological corridors, and improving habitat for pollinators and at-risk species. In collaboration with USFWS and local NGOs, NRCS also offers tree and shrub seedlings to farmers enrolled in their Shade Coffee Initiative.
“While I do think that these are reasons why our habitat programs are underutilized, these programs represent a big opportunity for producers to attract pollinators, increase beneficial predatory insect species and increase opportunities for birdwatchers and other agrotourism opportunities,” Cruz said.
Establishing natural vegetation along the edge of a field or stream may sometimes look rough, but it provides important food and cover for many animals and beneficial insects.
“Considering the skyrocketing costs farmers face just to plant a crop, the financial benefit may be more significant now than ever,” said Cruz. “There are parts of fields that are simply unproductive, and this is a way that farmers can get compensated for those places.”