How’s your habitat?

Want More Fish and Wildlife? Try Buffers by David Long, AGFC Private Lands Supervisor

Land Management Tips
Arkansas Game & Fish Commission
Arkansas Game & Fish Commission

Jonesboro, AR -( Landowners can increase fish and wildlife populations on their property by installing tree, shrub and native grass buffers.

You can increase income by enrolling in the Farm Service Agency’s Continuous Conservation Reserve Program. As of May, over 2,000 farmers and ranchers have placed over 76,000 acres in various CCRP buffer practices across the state and enrollment continues to increase.

Why? First, it pays. Enrolling in conservation practices including CP21 Filter Strips, CP22 Riparian Forest Buffers, CP30 Marginal Pastureland Wildlife Habitat Buffers and CP33 Habitat Upland Buffers pays yearly rental payments for up to 15 years – a 50 percent cost-share payment covering establishment cost, an additional 40 percent Practice Incentive Payment and one-time Signing Incentive Payment of $100 per acre up-front usually with 30 days of contract approval.

Most of these practices also offer an additional 20 percent payment added to the standard per acre cropland and/or pastureland rental rate. Landowners establish native tree, shrub or grass buffers ranging from 30 feet and up to 180 feet or wider.

One study conducted by the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute in three Missouri cropland counties found net farm income per acre rose when comparing farms with conservation buffers versus those without buffers. With fewer acres to farm from enrolling field or stream edges in CRP buffers, the annual cash operating expenses declined with the net effect being an increase in overall farm income. Based on the results of the study, farmers have an economic incentive to idle unproductive cropland acres through participation in the CCRP buffer practices. The study concluded additional returns over 10 years ranged from $4,090 to $28,340. Each farm will have a unique set of variables but overall, installing buffers stands to improve the financial bottom line.

These buffers are established around river, stream and drainage ditch edges along with row-crop fields where suitable vegetative cover is lacking. Many pastures next to riparian areas may also qualify. Installing buffers on the farm along unproductive cropland field and pasture edges next to stream sides can mean extra dollars for the family’s bottom-line.

Native grass, forbs, shrubs and tree buffers offer outstanding benefits to farm wildlife such as deer, turkey, rabbits quail and a host of non-game wildlife species. Migratory wildlife along with many other resident species also benefits- farmers installing buffers have proven this over and over. When they connect existing forested tracts using grass or tree buffers, wildlife populations improve dramatically.

The buffers serve as travel lanes along with fawning and nesting areas for deer and turkey moving between forested tracts. Managing for bigger deer in the Delta can be achieved using buffers to increase their habitat base. With our rich Delta soils capable of producing premium forage and cover, deer quality can be increased measurably when additional fawning, bedding and thermal cover is provided on the farm. Installing buffers that are 60- to 180-feet wide in quality wildlife friendly native grasses, shrubs and hardwood trees, which take a relatively small acreage, can result in significant increases in usable habitat across the farm landscape.

Yes, I mentioned wanting more fish. Not only are these landowners seeing increased wildlife populations, but improved water quality in streams and creeks on the farm as well as the water leaving their farms. The result can be increased fishing opportunities in the communities where landowners install buffers.

Yearly cropland CRP soil rental rates are paid based on the soil type existing on the farm being considered for enrollment plus a 20 percent incentive added. Payment rates per acre, per year range from a low of $25 up to over $100 per acre on some cropland soils. Croplands require a cropping history of four years cropped out of the past six years. Pastureland rental rates are set at a flat rate by county.

The program is not competitive, so if the land qualifies and is eligible, it can be enrolled, unlike the General CRP, in which the land has to rank competitively to be approved.

If farming ‘less and earning more’ sounds good, while at the same time improving wildlife populations and water quality, landowners can start by contacting an AGFC private lands biologist for program details first. Then, they can direct you to the appropriate FSA office to enroll.

About The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC)

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission plays an important role in keeping The Natural State true to its name. During the last 100 years, the agency has overseen the protection, conservation and preservation of various species of fish and wildlife in Arkansas. This is done through habitat management, fish stocking, hunting and fishing regulations, and a host of other programs.