The United States Department of Agriculture is making available approximately $50 million in financial assistance to partner with agricultural producers who want to restore and protect habitat for seven focus species, including the gopher tortoise in Mississippi.
The United States Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest approximately $3.7 million on habitat restoration for the gopher tortoise, the keystone species of longleaf pine forests in the Southeast. The tortoise is known for its deep burrows and is listed as threatened in the western part of its range under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since 2012, NRCS has worked with land managers to make conservation improvements to more than 278,000 acres of pine forests, benefitting the gopher tortoise and many other species.
"The decisions of agricultural producers can have significant impacts on wildlife," stated Kurt Readus, NRCS state conservationist for Mississippi. "By managing land with the gopher tortoise, producers can enhance the tortoise's habitat while also strengthening their agricultural operations."
The conservation efforts for the gopher tortoise are part of Working Lands for Wildlife innovative (WLFW), which was launched in 2012 to support struggling landscapes and strengthens agricultural operations. The WLFW is a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that focuses on the habitats that are home to seven species, the greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, southwestern willow flycatcher, golden winged warbler, bog turtle, gopher tortoise and the New England cottontail.
"Working Lands for Wildlife helps land managers integrate wildlife-friendly measures into their working lands and also ensures they can keep those lands working," stated Wesley Kerr, NRCS Mississippi Area 3 conservationist.
Technical and financial assistance is available through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.