USDA creates NRCS Agricultural Wildlife Conservation Center

USDA creates NRCS Agricultural Wildlife Conservation Center

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced in June the creation of a new Agricultural Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) in Madison, Mississippi, reports the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI). The AWCC will be an arm of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). It anticipates an initial budget of approximately $3 million, to develop and transfer wildlife habitat management technologies applicable to working lands. L. Pete Heard, a 44-year NRCS veteran, including stints as State Conservationist in Mississippi and Director of the former Wildlife Habitat Management Institute, will serve as the AWCC Director.

The AWCC unveiling was punctuated with the announcement of a new competitive Fish and Wildlife Conservation Grants program to be administered by the Center. The AWCC will be awarding $1.6 million in 2006 to 12 successful applicants for projects designed to develop and promote wildlife habitat technologies for farmlands.

Heard aspires for the Center to help raise the wildlife interest and capabilities of USDA agencies, agricultural landowners and myriad other partners, for mutual benefits: "Decisions made by America's farmers and ranchers directly affect the land's plant life, soil, water and wildlife. Decisions affecting stewardship of these resources cannot be understood apart from landowners' most basic need?the ability to support themselves and their families."

It is unclear how the new AWCC will affect or interact with the still-young NRCS Wildlife Team, based with the agency's Central National Technology Support Center in Fort Worth, Texas. This team was assembled in 2004 to lead NRCS acquisition, development and transfer to the field of science-based technology for enhancing wildlife habitat on agricultural lands.

Regardless, WMI Southeast Field Representative, Don McKenzie, sees the establishment of the AWCC as "important affirmation by the Ag Department and NRCS of their commitment to reconnect wildlife with the nation's privately owned working farmlands." McKenzie added that Heard's appointment to direct the AWCC has been roundly applauded within the conservation community.

July 09, 2006