Tag Archives: NRCS

Habitat partnership bats a thousand in Pennsylvania

Today we’re sharing the hard work of Tom and Wendy Belinda, who have dedicated themselves to conserving habitat for endangered Indiana Bats on their land in Blair County, Pennsylvania. White-nose syndrome, human disturbance, and habitat loss have caused our nation’s bat populations to plummet. Close proximity to places where bats roost and hibernate makes the Belindas’ property prime real estate for bat conservation in Pennsylvania.

Indiana Bats

Credit: Ann Froscheaur/USFWS

Working with federal agencies like the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and local partners, has allowed the Belindas to manage their property for the benefit of Indiana Bats and other vulnerable species. However, enhancing the health of their forests not only improves wildlife habitat, it also boosts the value and productivity of their land. A true win-win.

Check out our bat story map to learn more about the nationwide effort to conserve bats.

For more information about white-nose syndrome, visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org.

Enticing the “prince of game birds” back to a Maryland farm

Northern bobwhite were once common in the eastern U.S., but experienced a sharp decline in population in the second half of the 20th century. Photo from Chesapeake Bay Program/Will Parson (Creative Commons).

Northern bobwhite were once common in the eastern U.S., but experienced a sharp decline in population in the second half of the 20th century.
Photo of bobwhite quail in Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, from Chesapeake Bay Program/Will Parson (Creative Commons).

As a young mechanic just out of the Air Force, Bob Spiering said the whistling call of the bobwhite quail went silent.

It was the early 1980s in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, and the decades of disappearing quail populations had finally hit Caroline County. The years where he and a buddy could sustainably harvest the iconic game bird appeared to be over.

It was a loss—in many ways. Spiering grew up quail hunting with his dad and grandfather. “My grandfather was the biggest quail hunter in the world,” he said. “I was probably 10 years old when I started walking along with him, watching the setters get the birds.”

Bob Spiering on his farm in Greensboro, Maryland. That IS indeed a raptor on his arm. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob Spiering on his farm in Greensboro, Maryland. That IS indeed a raptor on his arm.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

Could they help bring the quail back? Spiering’s family gave it a shot.

Bob Spiering's dog races through a field of soybean. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob Spiering’s dog races through a field of soybean.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

His dad owned a farm—which has since been bought by Spiering—where he farmed every bit of tillable land and harvested all the crops. What they could leave for wildlife were the ditch banks, the sloped land alongside the ditches that drained the fields and made them usable. He started working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which could cover the costs of planting those ditch banks with native grasses. The grasses provide cover for quail to travel the field edges, to nest and to raise young.

But the quail didn’t come.

Time passed, and Spiering picked up the baton when he bought the farm in the headwaters of the Choptank River watershed. As his wife, Judy, said, “Bob was interested in hunting, in establishing it back to the kind of environment that was good for birds, deer and different wildlife.” With the income from his automotive garage downtown, Spiering would be able to leave more of the land for wildlife. Of the 175 acres of forests, meadows and fields, he tills 50 acres and manages the rest for wildlife.

Bob and Judy Spiering on their farm in Greensboro, Maryland. Bob got into falconry after a falconer came by his farm with a red-tailed hawk. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob and Judy Spiering on their farm in Greensboro, Maryland. Bob got into falconry after a falconer came by his farm with a red-tailed hawk.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

He brought in an expert from USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to guide him. Turned out that Spiering needed to do more than just grasses, the expert suggesting he restore weedy areas, stubby cover and other habitats needed by the birds. He enrolled the farm in a federal program to manage for wildlife, created hedgerows to add more cover and food, and disked fallow areas so that the disturbance would promote certain types of plants. He grew corn, soybeans, alfalfa and clover, leaving some of it for the animals.

Work at the Spiering farm. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Work at the Spiering farm.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

The rabbits started to show up like crazy, Spiering said. But he kept waiting.

One day, he finally heard the call. The quail had returned.

“I turned the farm into a place for rabbits, deer and a few quail. I see one almost every day now,” Spiering said, noting he has two quail coveys—families—on the farm, and room for one more.

The work didn’t end there. Spiering turned to waterfowl.

With over 60 acres of upland and wetland forest enrolled in the USDA-NRCS Wetland Reserve Program, Spiering set out with NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore a 10-acre freshwater wetland (see before/after below).

“The goal of the most recent project was to restore hydrology to a forested wetland and to create an open emergent wetland,” said Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Rich Mason. “The wetlands will provide habitat for ducks, geese, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds. Turtles, frogs, toads, and salamanders will also live in the restored wetlands.”

“The wetland buffers and grasslands will provide excellent areas for pollinators, too,” he said.

CBFO Partners biologist Rich Mason with landowner Bob Spiering Credit USFWS

Chesapeake Bay biologist Rich Mason and landowner Bob Spiering stand by the new 10-acre wetland.
Credit: USFWS

Three intense rain events occurred after the wetland was finished last October. Within days, shorebirds showed up in the shallow water. Shortly after, the couple was excited to see ducks and geese arrive in their wetland sanctuary. During daily walks, their dogs love to romp through the shallow water.

In the spring, a Fish and Wildlife Service volunteer secured the assistance of a Girl Scout troop to build and install wood duck boxes by the wetlands. This year, Spiering saw at least five families of wood ducks.

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Landowner Bob Spiering checks his wood duck box.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob Spiering opened Spiering's Auto Service Center as a young mechanic in Greensboro, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Bob.

Bob Spiering opened Spiering’s Auto Service Center as a young mechanic in Greensboro, Maryland. He and his wife run the shop.
Photo courtesy of Bob.

“The ground was mostly wet anyway, and a pain to farm,” he said. “I’m way happier having ducks in there. If I was relying on the farm for income it’d be different. Now it’s a place to relax.”

His wife likes the comfort of knowing the area around their farmhouse won’t be developed. “My goal is to not have a bunch of houses around me,” she said. “I take hikes and take my grandchildren on walks. They see the ducks and the different animals, a snake or two every once in awhile, turtles.”

Partnering with the government worked out just fine for him, Spiering said. What’s next? A pond, maybe, and retirement from the automotive business. “I’m just the supervisor these days, and I sneak off as much as possible,” he joked.

To enjoy the call of the bobwhite, perhaps.

Bye-bye Bottlenecks: Ensuring Safe Passage for Salmon in Maine

By Lauri Munroe-Hultman

Don’t you hate it when you’re cruising along the Interstate and “Lane Closed Ahead” signs start popping up? Soon, a sea of brake lights appears, and traffic slows to a crawl, as cars squeeze through the narrowed roadway. Suddenly, getting where you want to go is much more difficult.

Perhaps this is how an Atlantic salmon feels when, making its way upstream to spawn, the waterway funnels to a small opening under a road. Its journey, one programmed into its DNA and necessary for the survival of the species, becomes many times harder than expected, if not impossible.

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Undersized culverts like this one on a tributary to the Upper Sandy River in Phillips, Maine, hinder upstream migration of fish such as Atlantic salmon and Eastern brook trout and cause road washouts. Credit: USFWS

Maine’s aging roadways are littered with undersized culverts that prevent safe passage of fish and other animals and cause costly washouts during storms. Thanks to a recent grant from the Federal government, however, many outdated culverts will be replaced with wider archways that allow water and wildlife to pass more easily.

In December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) awarded $6 million to replace several hundred undersized culverts on private forestland in northern and eastern Maine and restore about 250 miles of waterway. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the principal partners in the five-year Maine Aquatic Connectivity Restoration Project that involves large forestland owners, tribal nations, conservation groups and local operators.

The project is the nation’s top-ranked funding agreement through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) administered by NRCS. It’s one of 88 high-impact projects across the country that will receive $225 million in Federal funding.

The Service worked with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to set restoration priorities and draft the project proposal. The agency will contribute more than $1.3 million, and staff will help with surveys and assessments, engineering and conceptual designs, environmental compliance, fish removal, project management and monitoring activities.

In addition to the Service and TNC, project partners include Project SHARE, Maine Audubon, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Penobscot Indian Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseets and the Passamaquoddy Indian Nations. As a group, the partners have pledged to match or exceed the $6 million contribution to Maine’s infrastructure.

In a typical restoration, workers remove an old, rusted culvert, perhaps three-to-four feet in diameter, and replace it with a larger arch or bridge similar in width to upstream and downstream stretches. The resulting natural stream bed and water depth and flow let fish pass through easily. Other wildlife, such as beaver, mink, muskrats, turtles, snakes and frogs, can cross under the roadway via dry banks inside of the structure. The wider passageway can accommodate floodwaters, protecting the road during storms.

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The completed project offers improved fish passage and increased protection against flooding. Credit: USFWS

The project will focus on waterways with some of the last endangered Atlantic salmon populations in the United States and critical Eastern brook trout habitat. Undersized culverts hinder the migration of these species, often keeping them from important spawning and rearing areas upstream.

While employing construction workers in the short-term, the project also will increase road stability and safety throughout Maine’s forestlands, supporting the forest industry, recreation and local economies. Healthy rivers and streams offer clean drinking water and enhanced sport fishing. Maine’s tribes will gain access to subsistence fishing, and downstream fisheries as far as the coast will benefit from improved water quality.

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Service staff from the Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, Maine Field Office of Ecological Services and Moosehorn and Lake Umbagog national wildlife refuges worked together to remove the old culvert and replace it with a 12-foot-wide concrete arch. Credit: USFWS

Jed Wright, project leader of the Service’s Gulf of Maine Coastal Program, is excited to work with partners to increase the pace of restoring stream connectivity in Maine. “We’re committed to helping private landowners implement great projects by providing funding, conducting site surveys, designing replacement structures, and ensuring that construction will have minimal impact on fish and their habitats,” Wright said.

“With over 11 million acres of Maine forest in private hands,” added Kate Dempsey, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Maine, “this project stands ultimately to influence stream-friendly management on thousands of miles of some of the best aquatic habitat in the East and spur innovations and efficiencies to influence restoration even more broadly nationally as we and our partners share lessons from this project.”

And that means more waterways with smooth sailing for species traveling upstream. Now, if we could do something about those Interstate bottlenecks….

(Lauri Munroe-Hultman is a writer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Hadley, Mass.)