When trying to imagine conservation efforts across the United States, visualize an unfinished quilt, where beautifully finished squares are sparsely interspersed with exposed batting.
Throughout the United States, land ownership varies from private to public, and as you travel from the East Coast westward, the higher balance of private lands versus public transitions to public land domination then back to private lands as you reach the West Coast.
In the East and throughout the Midwest, privately owned lands dominate the landscape, and interspersed within are lands held by municipalities, counties, states and federal governments, even tribes.
Because of NWTF partnerships with the USDA Forest Service and other public landowners, most of the habitat and forest restoration work we accomplish as part of America’s Big Six is on public ground through stewardship agreements and collaborative efforts with other partners. Our primary focus on public land is also intentional because work done on public land benefits the greatest number of users, as opposed to select individuals who have access to private lands.
As a result of this patchwork of land ownership and our limited ability to affect change on private lands, we see holes in the fabric that ideally should be prime, managed habitat in large contiguous swaths regardless of property boundaries.
The NWTF recognized that the only way to fill in the gaps was to change forest and habitat management practices on private lands and encourage landowners to participate in the overall conservation plan for a region. As a result, the NWTF partnered just over a year ago with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to create the National Forestry Initiative.
Through the NFI, the NWTF is aiding the NRCS by providing technical assistance through cost-shared staff positions to assist the agency in fulfilling obligations directed in the Farm Bill. The NWTF, through our policy work at a national level, was able to affect key elements in the Farm Bill that addressed incentives for private landowners to set aside acreage and/or perform conservation-related enhancements on their properties.
“America’s Big Six allows the NWTF to align its efforts, its resources and its partners to make sizable impacts on landscapes all over the U.S. by focusing on the greatest habitat needs in a specific area,” said Mike Mitchener, NWTF National Forestry Initiative coordinator. “These habitat deficiencies do not stop at private land boundaries; therefore, we are dependent on private landowners to help us achieve our overall objectives in those regions.”
NFI staff work with landowners to educate and provide guidance on the best ways to achieve their habitat objectives, how to navigate incentive program applications, and to stand with them as advocates for the wildlife resource.
“Education is vital, as landowners may have different priorities for their properties,” Mitchener said. “But showing them how they can meet all of their priorities while also benefitting wildlife is often enough for them to become conscientious stewards of their property.”
This is accomplished one landowner at a time, or through landowner field days, where several landowners can observe examples of best conservation practices and hear from a variety of habitat and land-management experts.
Over time, the gaps will fill in, and in the end, that heirloom-quality quilt will become a legacy for wildlife, water and forest resources and future generations.
Learn more about the America’s Big Six focal regions and the landscapes within them, here. If you own land within any of these landscapes, consider reaching out to NWTF staff in your area to see how your land can be part of this conservation legacy