Submitted by Brad Pfaff, FSA Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs
The rural area around Jackson, Mississippi offers spectacular scenery. Heavily wooded, it is a sportsman’s paradise, but like all beautiful places on Earth, some stewardship may be required at times.
Recently, I traveled there to help launch a new forest health conservation effort.
Years ago, USDA’s Farm Service Agency encouraged land owners to plant trees on acreage enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Trees in Mississippi and surrounding states grew rapidly and eventually the canopy became so thick that sunlight failed to reach the forest floor. This created a less-inviting environment for wildlife, including game birds such as the bobwhite quail.
With the support of Senator Thad Cochran and members of the Mississippi Congressional Delegation, language and funding support was included in the 2014 Farm Bill to encourage CRP participants to actively manage their woodlands by thinning trees and conducting prescribed burns to allow sunlight to reach the floor and support the growth of grasses, forbs and legumes.
To launch this effort, I joined Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Michael Sullivan, Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Curt Readus, Jo Ann Clark from Senator Cochran’s office and other officials at a tree farm near Jackson owned by CRP participants Robert and Melissa Murphree. There, I saw first-hand the improvement that tree thinning can make to the health of private forests.
On the Murphree property, which has already been thinned, I saw evidence of bountiful wildlife, and the trees that remained after thinning appeared to be healthy and thriving. This program is a “win-win” for landowners and for wildlife. It provides financial incentives to owners to actively steward their forest lands, and in so doing, enhance wildlife habitat, conserve soil, and protect water quality.
While I expect this program to be attractive to CRP contract holders in southern states like Mississippi, it is available to CRP participants nationwide. For more information, contact your local FSA office.