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The Scoop

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Verbatim: Aid offered to restore local woodlands

Statement issued Wednesday:

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announces that easement and restoration funding is available to landowners in four Indiana counties in the St. Joseph Watershed in northeast Indiana, through the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP). This HFRP project is a joint project with Michigan and Ohio landowners in the same watershed.

HFRP is a voluntary program established to restore and enhance forest ecosystems in order to 1) promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species, 2) improve biodiversity, and 3) increase carbon sequestration. "We worked up front with our partners to develop forest management guidelines for timber management that are compatible with the needs of the Copperbelly Watersnake and Indiana Bat," said NRCS Acting State Conservationist Shannon Zezula. "This coordinated effort for the HFRP provides forest landowners with financial payments to manage their forests for multiple benefits."

The NRCS is now accepting easement and restoration applications from landowners in the St. Joseph Watershed in Allen, DeKalb, Noble and Steuben counties for this conservation program. This is the watershed for the St. Joseph River that flows into Ft. Wayne. Applications must be submitted to NRCS by July 23, 2010.

"We encourage landowners in the St. Joseph Watershed to consider this opportunity," said Zezula. "The benefits of this type of conservation activity go beyond bringing dollars to the state. The conservation practices through HFRP will increase the amount and quality of wildlife habitat available to these species, enhance air quality, and sequester carbon in the soil."

NRCS offers three possible enrollment opportunities for landowners: permanent easements, 30-year easements, and 10-year restoration agreements. NRCS will conduct an appraisal of the easement applications that are selected for funding, and then will make an offer to the landowner based on the difference between the fair market value and the value of the land with an easement. Eligible lands would include woodland and associated acreage which could be restored back to woodland habitat and that would support threatened and endangered species.

NRCS in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) evaluates potential sites based on a number of ranking criteria. The highest ranked sites are funded based on available funds. Landowners funded for the program must comply with certain management guidelines of activities on the site. Timber harvest can be allowed, but will need to follow USFWS and NRCS guidance concerning acceptable practices.

Landowners interested in the Healthy Forests Reserve Program should contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service at their local USDA Service Center. Go to http://www.in.nrcs.usda.gov/contact/index.html to find an office near you. Visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/HFRP/ProgInfo/Index.html for additional program information.

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