by Judy Wilson, Private Lands Program Coordinator, CT DEP, Wildlife Division
The DEP Wildlife Division is very pleased to announce that it has been awarded a Tier I Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) grant from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to develop a new private lands habitat program. This program is designed to benefit Connecticut wildlife species at-risk and the habitats that support them. These initial Tier I funds may be used to develop and administer a dedicated private lands program to provide professional/technical and financial assistance to private landowners (funding for on-the-ground projects is not included). The program will be designed to protect wildlife species and habitats at-risk by facilitating wildlife management practices and providing conservation tools for private landowners interested in conserving wildlife and habitat on their properties.
The FWS defines “species at-risk” as any federally listed, proposed or candidate species or other species of concern as determined and documented by the state. Connecticut’s “species at risk” list includes all federal listed threatened and endangered wildlife (including fish) and plants (of which there are 11 that are found in the state), all state listed threatened, endangered and species of special concern and additional species which are considered at-risk by the Wildlife Division. The list contains just under 200 species of plants and animals and includes species such as, northern flying squirrel, least shrew, southern bog lemming, bog turtle, Jefferson salamander, dwarf wedge mussel, golden-winged warbler, prairie warbler, saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow, American black duck, New England cottontail, ruffed grouse, American woodcock, a noctuid moth (Agrostis stigmosa), frosted elfin (Incisalia irus), sandplain gerardia (Agalinis acuta) and showy aster (Aster spectabilis). Species will be added or removed based on the criteria and the recommendations of the review committee being developed under the new program.
Because the majority of federally listed, state listed and species determined to be at-risk here in Connecticut are dependent on early successional (ESS) and wetland habitats, LIP funding will be directed to these designated “priority habitats” and the “imperiled communities” found within them. These broad priority habitats include fields, old fields, grasslands, seedling/sapling stands, tidal wetlands, inland wetlands and even vernal pools. “Imperiled communities” are those natural communities defined by the DEP Environmental Information Center (EGIC) and the University of Connecticut publication entitled “Thirteen of Connecticut’s Most Imperiled Ecosystems” (Metzler and Wagner 1998; the authors note that this is a partial listing). These imperiled communities support many of our at-risk plants and animals, particularly many of the plants and invertebrates. Ten of Connecticut’s imperiled communities can be found within the broad priority habitats. Examples of imperiled natural communities include beaches, dunes and other coastal communities, sandplain grasslands, pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, calcareous fens and associated wetlands, larger rivers and streams and their associated riparian communities, and Atlantic white cedar swamps.
The Wildlife Division recently submitted a LIP Tier II grant proposal requesting funding from the USFWS to carry out on-the-ground habitat management on private land, which is not provided for under the Tier I grant. Unlike the Tier I grant, the Tier II grant will be awarded on a competitive basis, with all states competing for a limited amount of money. LIP Tier II funding can provide up to 75% of the cost of a project, but a 25% match is necessary. The Wildlife Division will use a variety of means to meet the match requirement, including but not limited to DEP personnel and equipment, match dollars from partner conservation groups, monitoring and labor by volunteers, conservation organization grants, in-kind services from landowners (i.e. brush mowing or shrub planting) and landowner funds.
The U.S. Congress has made a one time appropriation of $40 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to implement the Tier I and Tier II portions of LIP. Both the USFWS and the state natural resource agencies hope that a highly successful program will lead to Congress to make funding available annually. The Wildlife Division will learn if it has been successful in competing for Tier II grant monies before the start of the new year. An award of the Tier II grant would make possible an unprecedented private lands program in Connecticut.
If awarded, Lip Tier II funds will be used to do on-the-ground habitat management and to execute conservation easements to reclaim, restore, enhance, maintain, manage and protect priority habitats and the at-risk species they support. The entire state is comprised of a tremendous diversity of habitats and wildlife. However, the Connecticut River and its watershed support a high proportion of the state’s species at-risk and will define the broad project area for the program. Resources will be focused on priority habitat projects within the Lower Connecticut River Tidelands focus area (south of Portland/Cromwell), which contains nationally recognized tidal wetlands, and the Eightmile River watershed focus areas, which is an important tributary to the lower Connecticut River. As the program evolves, additional focus areas may be added and it should be stressed that projects outside of these focus areas will be eligible for funding.
The Wildlife Division Recognizes the need to direct the limited LIP funding it may receive to those projects of highest priority and most likely to succeed. The Division will therefore work in partnership with entities such as The Nature Conservancy, Connecticut Audubon, Ruffed Grouse Society, Hartford Audubon Society, Connecticut Forest and Park Association and various sportsmen’s groups such as the Connecticut Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Connecticut Waterfowl Association and others, to effectively maximize the ability of LIP funding to get on-site projects completed.
Projects will focus on early successional and wetland habitats, and will include, but not be limited to, old field restoration through the use of heavy brush and tree cutting machinery, native warm season grass plantings, prescribed mowing, invasive vegetation control, riparian zone restoration, shrubland restoration and management and open marsh water management. LIP funds cannot be used to buy land, but a small portion of the LIP funds will be dedicated to the purchase of conservation easements to protect extremely valuable habitat. Because of the high value of land and limited LIP funding, conservation easements will be carried out in partnership with established conservation groups so that the conservation benefits can be maximized.
As development of the program progresses and the Wildlife Division learns if funding will be available to provide financial assistance to private landowners, the Private Lands Program biologist (Judy Wilson) will post up-to-date LIP information in Connecticut Wildlife and several other publications, along with the DEP Web site www.dep.state.ct.us. Landowners will need to fill out an application to apply for technical/financial assistance. Financial assistance will be awarded on a competitive basis. Project criteria, application forms and a ranking process are currently being developed. Applications should be available in the spring 2004 at DEP offices and on the DEP Web site. Check future issues of Connecticut Wildlife for updates on this exciting new private lands program that will work to protect, restore and enhance Connecticut’s habitats that support at-risk plants and wildlife.
This article originally appeared in the March 2004 ECFLA/WDLT Newsletter.
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