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Helping People Help the Land and Its Wildlife

By Timothy Dunne
NRCS Resource Conservationist
January, 2006 (updated September, 2006)

Early successional habitats, particularly grasslands, were once quite common throughout New Jersey. Our coastal areas have had large expanses of natural grassland for thousands of years, mostly covered by Spartina, also known as salt hay or cordgrass. Agricultural grasslands, dominated by European grasses such as ryegrass, orchardgrass, fescue, timothy and others, have been abundant here since European settlement.

In the early 20th Century the agricultural landscape began to change. Increased human populations and loss of farmland to natural succession and development contributed to declines in the quantity and quality of New Jersey's grasslands. Today only about 5% of New Jersey's landscape remains in early successional stages. Grassland bird populations that once thrived in our farmland landscapes are now declining. Species such as the Northern bobwhite, Eastern meadowlark, bobolink, ring-necked pheasant and many others are becoming uncommon and face challenges to survive.

Wildflowers and grasses
Native grass/wildflower meadow established three years earlier at a Partners for Fish and Wildlife site on a Mercer County farm.

But there is good news! The New Jersey DEP's Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) has partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the United States Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and non-governmental organizations, including NJ Audubon, to implement a proactive plan of action to conserve and restore wildlife habitat. A key component of the plan includes placing a DFW wildlife biologist at all six of the NRCS field offices throughout the state. Two positions have already been filled and more will be added as funding becomes available.

Burning field in winter
Winter prescribed burning of this native grass field in Warren County will invigorate native grasses and control unwanted weedy plants. Project is funded by USDA through a WHIP agreement with the local landowner.
These new biologists will help interested landowners obtain assistance for conservation programs on their land. Both technical and financial assistance (cost-sharing) is available to landowners enrolled in the conservation programs. Cost-sharing means that the landowner provides a portion of program cost, either monetary or through in-kind services (i.e., labor and equipment provide by and used by the landowner to implement conservation practices are considered in-kind services).

A variety of state and federal programs are available. The US Department of Agriculture's Farm Bill includes several different programs that target different natural resources in need of protection and were designed to create and protect wildlife habitat at little or minimal cost to the landowner. In addition to restoring and establishing fish and wildlife habitat, the Farm Bill's conservation provisions help reduce soil erosion, safeguard streams and rivers, protect valuable groundwater resources and improve air quality - things we all benefit from. Reducing the financial risk associated with drought or flooding is an additional benefit to farmers enrolling portions of properties in the appropriate conservation program.

USDA Farm Bill Programs

Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP)

Through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides both technical assistance and cost-share assistance to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat on non-federal land. WHIP is a voluntary program. Landowners work with NRCS to prepare and implement a wildlife habitat development plan. NRCS can provide up to 75% of the costs of the planned practices to implement habitat improvements. There is no financial limit on WHIP contracts. NRCS has provided up to $30,000 for an individual contract in New Jersey, although most average around $5000.

See for application information.

Wetland Reserve Program (WRP)

The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is a voluntary program that provides technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to address wetland, wildlife habitat, soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on private lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. The program provides an opportunity for landowners to receive financial incentives to enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring marginal land from agriculture.

WRP participants benefit by:

  • Receiving financial and technical assistance in return for restoring and protecting wetland functions and values
  • Seeing a reduction in problems associated with farming potentially difficult areas
  • Having incentives to develop wildlife recreational opportunities on their land.

See for application information.

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)

Under CREP, landowners voluntarily remove cropland along streams, lakes and wetlands from agricultural production and convert the land to native grasses, trees and other vegetation to provide buffers. These conservation buffers slow and absorb runoff, sediment, nutrients, and chemicals from cropland while also creating beneficial wildlife habitat for many species in need. CREP also pays landowners the cost to establish eligible conservation practices, annual rental payments to maintain the practices, and, in most cases, incentive payments to sign up for the program.To view a fact sheet about CREP, from the USDA Farm Service Agency web site, go to:

Additional information about the many Farm Bill programs can be found at the NJ NRCS website:

Native grass buffers, established under the CREP program, provide wildlife habitat and filter agricultural runoff, protecting the stream below.

Other Programs

Partners for Fish and Wildlife is a US Fish and Wildlife Service program which, focuses on restoring wetlands, grasslands, and riparian (streamside) areas. Over 150 projects have been completed in NJ since 1991, restoring thousands of acres of wetlands and seeding hundreds of acres to native grasses. Additional information can be found at the Partners for Fish and Wildlife website:

Newly emerged grasses
Newly emerged native grasses in this Somerset County farm field will grow vigorously and create valuable grassland bird habitat in a few years. Project is funded through a NJ DFW LIP agreement.

The Landowner Incentive Program (LIP) is a NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife program and is a relative newcomer to the wildlife habitat conservation scene. LIP is funded through the US Fish and Wildlife Service with the intent of protecting declining animal populations and their habitat. New Jersey LIP focuses on early successional habitat, the lower 10 kilometers of Cape May Peninsula, and land adjacent to permanently protected areas.

The Division of Fish and Wildlife implemented LIP in 2004 and since then has accepted projects protecting over 1,500 acres of grassland habitat, and will restore over 500 acres of that to native warm season grass meadows. Landowners typically engage in a delayed mowing program on their land allowing ground nesting grassland birds to fledge their young.

These grassland projects protect over 15 declining wildlife species. In Hunterdon County alone 10 landowners will manage grasslands under LIP. These five-year agreements call for delayed mowing on nearly 800 acres and 200 acres will be seeded to native warm season grasses. For more information on LIP go to the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife web site at:

To find out more information on how you can establish, manage or enhance grassland wildlife habitat in New Jersey, contact one of the two new private lands biologists. For Northern New Jersey contact MacKenzie Hall at the NRCS office at 908-782-4614 x104. She is eagerly awaiting your call to help you help your land and its wildlife!


Conservation Profiles: Landowners Help Imperiled Wildlife (pdf, 1.3mb)
Working Together - Tools for Helping Imperiled Wildlife on Private Lands (pdf, 1.1mb)

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Department of Environmental Protection
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Last Updated: November 15, 2006