The future of wildlife in the United States is tied to the health and productivity of our working lands. For many wildlife species, private lands owned by America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners make up the vast majority of their native range and habitat. NACD believes that American producers have been given a unique opportunity – and an awesome responsibility – to make land management decisions that not only support their businesses and families, but also protect and enhance their land in ways that benefit wildlife.
Conservation districts have worked alongside landowners and communities for more than 70 years to restore habitat, improve water quality, and protect the natural features and resources that sustain wildlife species. Their restoration efforts have created benefits for private landowners, producers, hunters, anglers, and wildlife enthusiasts alike. NACD is committed to supporting voluntary and local wildlife conservation efforts and actively advocates for federal policy that allows conservation districts and landowners to lead those efforts.
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The issue of invasive species is not one that has a quick or easy solution; it’s a multifaceted problem that will continue to pose new management challenges as world trade becomes more and more globalized. The impact of invasive species is one that can be felt and seen everywhere—from chestnut blight, which all but obliterated the American Chestnut tree, to the white nose syndrome, which caused at least 5.7 million North American bat deaths, to zebra mussels, which choke our nation’s fresh water systems, to Emerald ash borers, which have had devastating effects on ash trees. Invasive species push out native species, add undue stress on ecosystems, and harm local communities’ economies. In 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that invasive species cost the U.S. more than $120 billion a year. The Bureau of Land Management published another report that estimated invasive plants have been spreading across public lands at a rate of 4,600 acres per day.
Current federal invasive species management practices lack effective interagency coordination and communication. In March of 2016, NACD sent a letter to Congress in support of Senator Barrasso’s “Federal Lands Invasive Species Control, Prevention and Management Act” (S. 2240), a bill that sought to improve the management of invasive species.
Wild Horses and Burros
Wild horse and burro populations on public lands must be properly managed to prevent degradation of rangeland resources and to minimize expense to the tax-paying public. NACD supports any and all efforts, with whatever actions are required, to ensure BLM maintains horse population numbers in designated Horse Management Areas (HMA) within the levels outlined in their own Resource Management Plans and the immediate removal of all wild horses and burros found outside of the designated HMAs. NACD insists on wild horse and burro population numbers being managed based on sound scientific rangeland health practices to ensure protection and preservation of critical sage grouse habitat, other wildlife habitat and multiple land use.
Feral swine were introduced in North America by Spanish colonizers, who at the time, allowed their domesticated swine to range freely, save for an annual round-up. It took a very short time before some of these domesticated swine reverted to the wild and began reproducing at high rates. More recently, the popularity of hunting feral hogs (specifically their trapping and releasing) has led to their spread across 48 states.
Feral sows reach sexual maturity at six months of age and produce two to three litters (which are on average eight piglets) each year. To keep the feral hog population steady, land managers must remove 80 percent of a herd’s population annually. Feral swine destroy crops (both seeds and plants), damage livestock grazing, and prey on newborn lambs, goats, calves, and game animals. They degrade native wildlife habitat by destroying seedling and sapling trees and removing ground cover – promoting erosion and water quality issues and disrupting water infiltration and nutrient cycling – through their rooting, wallowing, and trampling activities. Feral hogs also carry at least 45 different parasites and diseases that pose a threat to livestock, pets, wildlife, and in some cases, human health.
To combat the feral swine problem, NACD has formed the Feral Swine Subcommittee that works with local conservation districts, NRCS, and APHIS staff to develop programs for control and eradication.
Cheatgrass was introduced in North America during the 1850s through contaminated grain seed, straw packing material, and ballast water from ships sailing between Europe and Asia. Because the grass’ seedling roots continue to grow during the winter, it easily beats out native vegetation for water and nutrients. Cheatgrass is also a heavy seed producer. Currently, cheatgrass covers about seven percent of the Great Basin, which includes southern Idaho, eastern Oregon, Nevada, and western Utah. Unlike native perennial bunch grasses and sagebrush, which maintain about 65 percent of their moisture in mid-June, cheatgrass is usually completely dry, offering great kindling for wildfires.
Deteriorated rangelands dominated by cheatgrass burn more often, eliminating native species causing the ecosystems to become fire dependent. NACD supports increased federal funding for large, landscape-level, multiple ownership range restoration projects on private, state, and federal lands to match those appropriations made by Western states.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted in 1973 to protect threatened and endangered species from going extinct in the wild; however, very few of the species protected under the law have “recovered” (as determined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and been delisted. NACD believes voluntary, landowner-led habitat restoration and conservation are critical and proven ways to bolster vulnerable species’ populations. Take the following the species for instance:
New England Cottontail
The New England Cottontail was placed on the endangered species list in 2006. In 2008, conservation districts, state and federal agencies, wildlife organizations, and private landowners began a collaborative effort to rebuild the New England Cottontail’s habitat. Through hard work and determination, these voluntary conservation programs helped to bring the New England Cottontail population up to 10,500 individuals. This population increase persuaded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to delist the New England Cotton tail in late 2015.
Lesser Prairie Chicken
The collaborative efforts of conservation districts and local stakeholders resulted in such a boon to the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) population that the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas overturned FWS’s decision to list the bird under ESA. The court determined the conservation efforts undertaken over millions of acres across five states contributed to a 25 percent increase in the LRC population from 2014 to 2015 and deserved recognition from the federal government.
Greater Sage Grouse
The successful rebound of sage grouse and sagebrush habitat in the West can largely be attributed to the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI) – a collaborative effort launched in 2010 by NRCS, conservation districts, state and federal agencies, and conservation, agriculture, and wildlife organizations. SGI is a voluntary, incentive-based approach to conservation that engaged a multitude of partners on public and private lands. In the past five years, conservation easements have increased 18-fold in priority landscapes critical to sage grouse and roughly 4.4 million acres of habitat have been conserved.
Wildlife in the Farm Bill
The 2014 farm bill rolled the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and required at least 5 percent of the annual EQIP budget (over $1.35 billion annually) be allocated for WHIP activities. NACD believes these funds will continue to incentivize landowner-led wildlife habitat conservation on the ground.
National Endangered Species Act Reform Coalition – NACD is a member of NESARC, a national alliance made up of municipalities, utilities, other organizations and businesses, and farmers. NESARC supports updating and modernizing ESA to better achieve species recovery.
National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition – NACD is a founding member of the National Horse and Burro Rangeland Management Coalition, a diverse partnership of 18 wildlife conservation and sportsmen organizations, industry partners, and professional natural-resource scientific societies. We work together to identify proactive and comprehensive solutions to increase effective management of horse and burro populations and mitigate the adverse impacts these wild horses and burros have on healthy native fish, wildlife, and plants, and on the ecosystems on which they depend.