Archive for October 2020

Wildlife Habitat Improvements through the Natural Resource Conservation Program

Wildlife Habitat Improvements through the Natural Resource Conservation Program, Post and Photos by Sabra Noyes

Although living most of her life in Washington, Sabra had no idea about prairies in Washington until she retired and bought a farm, Rosefield, not too far from Glacial Heritage Preserve. She never ceases to be amazed by the complexity and interdependence of life on the prairie.

Last week the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) posted about their program. As I have held four contracts with this organization, I would like to share how they helped me restore the native habitats on my farm.

When I moved to my farm in Oakville in 2010, there were just a few oaks left, the property having been logged a hundred years or so ago. The Douglas firs that grew in after had also been logged in 1998. As I looked across the landscape, I was confronted with acres of stumps, holes big enough to swallow my tractor. and the most luxurious fields of Canadian thistle, six feet tall, dense, and persistent.

Wanting to improve the picture I contacted the Grays Harbor Conservation District. They brought in NRCS and as a team with a biologist, forester, program manager, and technician we walked the property and they offered suggestions of what could be done. Acting on their recommendations, over the next couple of years, I contracted with NRCS to make significant improvements to the habitats on the property.

The first project was to restore eight acres back to an oak savannah. Cost sharing was available for many practices. The huge holes had to be filled in, blue rye grass seed planted and mulched. Fencing was installed to protect the area.

Oregon oak saplings were purchased, planted, and caged.

A simple to build and inexpensive cage, yet very effective.  None of the 20 oaks planted were lost to browsing.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A simple to build and inexpensive cage, yet very effective. None of the 20 oaks planted were lost to browsing.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

An old maple and a large fir were girdled to create snags for nesting birds.

A "slow kill" of a maple and a fir tree.  Bark was removed emulating wildlife destruction.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A “slow kill” of a maple and a fir tree.  Bark was removed emulating wildlife destruction.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A brush pile was created – a wonderful habitat for birds, bugs, rodents, and reptiles.

Brush piles and snags have a life cycle with stages supporting different organisms.  As  snags and piles mature, new ones are created.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

Brush piles and snags have a life cycle with stages supporting different organisms.  As  snags and piles mature, new ones are created.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

Bird nesting boxes went up. A wildlife corridor connecting wooded patches was created using Oregon ash and native crabapples to provide cover and food.

A portion of the fence cost shared with NRCS protecting plantings in the wildlife corridor.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A portion of the fence cost shared with NRCS protecting plantings in the wildlife corridor.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

A second contract was signed for improving a small remnant stand of Garry oaks. The understory of vine maples, cherry, and cascara was cut away from the oaks. This allowed lower branches to form (making for a healthier tree) [707]as well as providing an environment where sprouting acorns could become established. Additional oak saplings were planted such that, over time, there will be a three acre oak forest.

"Lion tailed" Garry oaks created by years of over shading.  Cutting back competing trees, these oaks are now starting to branch out.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

“Lion tailed” Garry oaks created by years of over shading. Cutting back competing trees, these oaks are now starting to branch out.  Photo by Sabra Noyes

Finally, there were two contracts for establishing a prairie. This prairie is described in an earlier blog post. NRCS provided cost sharing on two years of weed killing in preparation for establishing prairie plants, sowing of native Roemers fescue, planting camas bulbs, and wildflower seeding.

As it has been a couple of years since my last contract with NRCS, most certainly their programs and practices have changed. But if you have any inkling of wanting to improve a habitat, please check out their programs. They are a dedicated group with a wealth of knowledge and experience to share.

I am very grateful for NRCS. The environment on this farm has changed dramatically, which could only have been done with help. Every year my count of native birds (76 species) and plants increases, pollinators are everywhere and two years ago the Douglas squirrels showed up. The farm is becoming an island in the archipelago of prairies being restored throughout southwestern Washington.

Working for NRCS and with Landowners: The Wonders Never Cease to Amaze Me

Working for NRCS and with Landowners: The Wonders Never Cease to Amaze Me, Post by Susan Hoey Lees

I have been involved with agriculture in one form or another all my life. I have owned and operated a stable. Horses are still a passion, so I diligently manage our pastures for them and the pleasure of the wildlife that come to graze nearly nightly.

We manage our own forest lands, and I am also passionate for all types of gardens whether they be for edibles, flower/prairie viewing, cut-flowers or purely sharing my heritage fruit trees’ bounties with the wildlife and horses. Watching wildlife on our properties has always been a delight for me; but watching land and wildlife return and thrive on a customer’s property is especially delightful to me.

I am currently working as a Resource Conservationist with NRCS in the Chehalis Service Center, serving ranchers, farmers, private forest landowners and managers.

Working for NRCS and with Landowners: The Wonders Never Cease to Amaze Me

It has been 10 years since I made a rather radical career change to follow my heart and try to marry my passions for healing/restoring the land, the environment, agriculture and technical and design skills all in one. I did not know if I would be able to find my dream job.

I can now fondly recall one of the questions that my potential supervisor asked me in my first phone interview for an engineering technician position for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). The question was; why do you want to work for NRCS?

I had innocently answered that I was seeking a position that would allow me to marry my passions and to help people help the land; and I could hear the interviewer starting to softly chuckle. I was horrified and inquired if I said something wrong, to which he inquired if I knew what the agency’s (NRCS) mission statement was. My heart raced and I was abashed and began to feel that my interview was going in a direction that was not boding well for me as he continued to chuckle deeply into the phone. I was mortified and shyly stated; no, I did not know the agency’s mission statement. My interviewer’s chuckle got even deeper, yet it contained a tickle of a hint of delight; finally, he stated that he felt I would fit in quite well with the agency as the NRCS mission statement was “Helping People Help the Land”. He offered me the position as a Civil Engineering Technician. I had in fact found, and was offered, my dream job!

Over the last 10 years I have held a few different positions with NRCS, in a few different locations, and have had the privilege of working with a wide variety of private landowners and land managers addressing a wide variety of resource issues. Often these landowners would seek financial assistance through one of NRCS’s financial programs to implement/install some of the recommendations. The result is almost always “helping people to help the land” through addressing resource concerns, protecting natural resources, and/or restoring degraded ecosystems.

The beginnings of NRCS are rather humble, the agency was formed as a result of the urgings of one man, Huge Hammond Bennett, to Congress to address the Dust Bowl in the 1930’s by conserving the nations precious resources. Conserving resources throughout the nation, not just in Dust Bowl territory, so there would be healthy soils to grow food, clean water to drink and grow crops, clean air to breathe, healthy plants for food, fiber & ecosystems, and healthy animals.

The urgings were so compelling that Congress established a federal agency called the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), and the legacy of using science-based technologies to address resource concerns affecting soils, water, air, plants and animals was developed.

The agency’s vision was and continues to be a simple one; use a partnership approach to work with landowners, community groups, local governments, Tribes, States and other Federal agencies on a voluntary basis. Thus, the agency began and continues to be a non-regulatory Federal agency working with landowners and land managers, offering technical and science-based knowledge for free, through site visits by NRCS staff with a landowner or manager.

The agency’s name was changed from SCS in the 1980’s to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, with that name change also came the Farm Bill programs that began offering financial incentives/assistance to landowners and managers to implement the recommendations shared with them on how to address the resource concerns identified.

Here is a link to explore more about NRCS; who we are, the partnership approach, and a little about our Conservation Assistance. https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/wa/about/

The list of NRCS practices (a term used to describe both management and physically installed components) is extensive. Recommended practices are dependent on the objectives of the landowner and the land use and resource concerns being treated, see examples below for common types of practices.

General practices used for many land uses: fencing, irrigation practices, livestock practices

Cropland practices often include: cover cropping, no-till, soil health, pest management, irrigation practices

Prairie restoration practices often include: invasive weed control, brush management, native species reseeding, upland wildlife habitat management

Ecosystem restoration practices often include: early successional habitat development/management, wetland enhancements or restorations, tree/shrub site prep & plantings, wetland wildlife habitat management, wildlife habitat planting (pollinator hedgerow)

Fish passage practices often include: barrier removals or aquatic organism passage elements, channel bed stabilization, critical area plantings, riparian buffers

Forestry practices often include: invasive weed control, tree/shrub site prep & plantings, pre- commercial thinning, riparian forest buffers, upland wildlife habitat management

The 2018 Farm Bill is the newest Congressional authorization that allows NRCS to have funding to incentivize landowners to implement practices to protect or restore natural resources. There are a few programs under this authorization, but the most popular is the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Here is a link that covers all the current programs: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/wa/programs/farmbill/

NRCS is taking EQIP applications now, the deadline for all documents to be in is November 20th, 2020. It is a good idea to begin talking with an NRCS staff person to discuss your resource concerns, your objectives and then decide if you want only the advice and information from the agency, or if you want to seek financial assistance through one of the programs to install/implement some of the practices that may be recommended during an on-site visit. Here is a link that will guide you through the basic steps of applying for the EQIP program: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/financial/eqip/?cid=nrcseprd1342638

There are NRCS offices throughout WA. I am working out of the Chehalis Office, in Lewis County, but have worked out of other counties. The attached link can be used to find the nearest local office to you. https://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?service=page/CountyMap&state=WA&stateName=Washington&stateCode=53

The wonders never cease to amaze me when technical and environmental knowledge is shared with people who want to be good stewards of the land. Couple that knowledge with some form of financial assistance for the recommendations to be installed, and voila! the land & wildlife begins to recover, it becomes rejuvenated through the restoration process or management efforts. Follow-up visits are typically filled with delights as the landowner’s own passions and awe of the land’s healing process become re-ignited as they embrace a stewardship role for their lands!

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