Improvement of existing habitat most cost-effective; application deadline Dec. 15

The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) is a voluntary program for landowners who want to develop or improve wildlife habitat on private lands. The WHIP program provides both technical and cost-share assistance and is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Wildlife biologists with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) help participants apply for the program and work one-on-one with landowners to help develop wildlife management plans.

While cost-share is available through WHIP to establish grass, trees, shrubs, and other habitat where it is nonexistent, it is often easier to manipulate existing habitat to achieve desired wildlife habitat objectives. It is also more cost-effective, yet many people do not know how WHIP can be used to improve existing habitat for wildlife, even on lands that are in agriculture production.

Enhancement of grasslands can help popular species such as prairie chickens and bobwhite quail. Cost-share practices offered through WHIP can improve habitat for these species by removal of invasive trees. Trees are a determent to livestock production and inhibit prairie chicken reproduction on grasslands. Grasslands infested with trees are abandoned by prairie chickens and many other grassland species.

Brush management for wildlife really means killing trees because many species of shrubs are beneficial to wildlife. WHIP offers two cost-share practices to control unwanted invasive trees: brush management and prescribed burning. Burning can be a cost effective follow-up treatment for areas where larger trees have been removed. By removing invasive trees, applying a prescribed burn once every three or four years, and implementing an appropriate grazing plan, habitat for prairie chickens, quail, and many species of nongame birds can be improved dramatically.

Vegetation that normally grows within riparian areas (within 300 feet of a stream), provides habitat for turkey, deer, and bobwhite quail. Streamside vegetation also provides shade and habitat for aquatic species in streams. More than 60 percent of threatened and endangered species in Kansas rely on streams and riparian habitat to survive.

Riparian areas that are being degraded by uncontrolled livestock access can be improved with cost-share assistance through WHIP. WHIP can help pay for fencing, so grazing within riparian areas can be managed. WHIP can also help develop alternative water sources for livestock to keep them from damaging vegetation and reducing water quality in streams. Areas prone to erosion within riparian areas or on cropland next to streams can be seeded back to native grasses, forbs, and legumes to improve water quality and provide habitat for quail and turkeys.

A new practice called “coppicing” offers cost-share for cutting trees that have a tendency to re-sprout in a shrub-like form. This practice can provide important escape and loafing cover for quail.

Anyone interested in learning more about improving habitat may submit an application for cost-share assistance at any time, but if they would like to be considered for Fiscal Year 2007 WHIP funding, they must apply before Dec. 15, 2006. Landowners should contract their local KDWP wildlife biologist or NRCS field office to submit an application. Applicants can expect funding decisions in the spring of 2007. Successful applicants may start their habitat projects once their project is approved.