Virginia districts implement practices to restore wildlife habitat

Mountain Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is partnering with other agencies and implementing practices that are restoring wildlife habitat and improving water quality.

“We’re taking a landscape approach in addressing resource concerns in the Lower Cowpasture watershed,” NRCS District Conservationist Charles Simmons said. “We’re bringing partners together and bringing resources together to change the interface between the national forest and private lands and get a comprehensive plan to address the concerns.”

The effort is a large piece of the Lower Cowpasture Restoration Project, a Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership (LRP) project for George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. The project includes integrating treatments across federal, state and private lands in a priority watershed with the goal of restoring forests and rare plants, decreasing wildfire, improving wildlife habitat and water quality.

“A lot of the projects that have been initiated are still in the works,” Chris Swecker, conservation specialist for Mountain SWCD, said. “There are erosion and water quality issues we are addressing with rotational grazing, watering troughs and cover crops.”

SWCD staff made contacts with landowners who currently use programs and have management plans to continue to collaborate on the project and conducted surveys and scouted potential participants for the LRP project.

“This partnership and funding has allowed us to get some producers in the door for the first time and hopefully this builds the foundation for long-term environmental improvement in the watershed.” Simmons said.

According to Simmons, more than $150,000 has been spent in the watershed this year and the SWCD and NRCS are working with one of the larger crop producers to implement over 300 acres of conservation practices. The SWCD also does outreach and joint visits with NRCS.

In one area, a landowner is using partnership funds to implement new conservation efforts on his property that focus on brush management, invasive species control and rotational grazing practices for his cattle on the more than 500 acres of hay and pasture land, which includes land along the Cowpasture River.

“We’re getting the message out and getting better communication,” Swecker said. “Sometimes there’s a little confusion with all the different programs, but there’s better communication and more awareness. The outreach has helped. Landowners are participating in something that they might not have otherwise.”

Practices within the watershed also aim to improve habitat for declining early successional birds and other species important to Virginia; increase water quality, function and connectivity of streams and full passage of aquatic organisms; and remove non-native invasive plant species while restoring native plant diversity to promote the health of honeybees and other pollinators.

Other partners include: Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Mountain SWCD, Virginia Wilderness Committee, American Chestnut Foundation, Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Virginia Forestry Association, Society of American Foresters (Virginia); Dabney Lancaster Community College (Forestry Technology); Virginia Wildlife Habitat Coalition, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and Virginia Department of Transportation.

Tags: Soil, water, conservation, LRP, landscape, restoration, partnership, district, mountain, virginia

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