Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative a success for Chambers County landowner

Full Article: http://www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov/news/lonestarlink/mbhi.html

A year has passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Thousands of barrels of crude oil flowed daily into the Gulf waters threatening coastal shorelines, habitat and wildlife, before the well was capped.

In response to the disaster, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) launched the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) program in an effort to protect, enhance and restore habitat for migratory birds making their annual journey to the Gulf.

“The Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI) was a huge success in Texas, with many landowners joining NRCS to develop alternative habitats to those areas normally used along the Gulf Coast,” said Russell Castro, NRCS state wildlife biologist in Texas. “Landowners have expressed excitement in the number of species of migratory waterfowl that have been sighted on those fields entered into the program. Initial formal monitoring supports this success. The MBHI has been one of the true gems in supporting our natural resources, in particular coastal wildlife species, as NRCS responded to the Deep Horizon oil spill.”

The MBHI was administered by NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Wildlife Habitat Initiative Program (WHIP). Will Beaty of Chambers County, Texas was one of the first to enroll acreage into the initiative which paid rice farmers to flood their fallow fields to create overwintering habitat for migrating birds. He enrolled 1,445 acres into EQIP and 600 acres into WHIP. In southeast Texas alone, more than 29,000 acres were enrolled in the initiative to the tune of more than $3 million.

“It gave us the resource to create habitat we’ve never been able to create before. It enhanced our effectiveness to hold waterfowl in the area. We were able to flood hundreds and hundreds of acres that we hadn’t been able to flood in awhile. We had a lot more waterfowl that stayed and wintered with us that usually pass through,” Beaty said.

The flooded acres increased populations of various waterfowl species, including Wood Ducks and diver ducks, such as redheads and bluebills. The water also provided the necessary habitat needed by waterfowl to feed, rest, roost and build energy before moving on their migration path.

“We noticed that the birds stayed throughout the season, unlike past years where we had seen a progression of the migration before,” he noted.

In fact, Beaty said his land, which holds the largest population of Mottled ducks in southeast Texas, continues to reap benefits from the initiative.

“With that farm being able to drain down naturally, it gives the Mottled ducks the opportunity to nest and to rear their young in areas that they had never been able to do before. So we are going to see the benefit of this program going well into the summer. And again, as we stated, Texas is in the worst drought in recorded history. And without having this water down there now, our ducks would have been in real trouble along the way,” Beaty said. “So, I know that the program is over technically, but we are going to keep the water for as long as we can and naturally drain it out of our system at our farm. It’s going to benefit the shore birds and the migrating birds back on their way back north this year.”

Will Beaty of Chambers County was one of the first to enroll agriculture acreage into the MBHI which paid rice farmers to flood their fallow fields to
create overwintering habitat for migrating birds. “I think that if we had not but the water there they would have gone into areas that would have been affected. And who knows what the outcome would have been. But, again we acted very quickly, we were able to put water on the ground and it was just magnificent to see the numbers that were on our farm throughout the migration,” Beaty said.