Since 1985, the federal Conservation Reserve Program has allowed more than 36 million acres of marginal agricultural lands to be restored to grasses and trees that provide cover for wildlife.
As of March last year, 19,294 acres in Maryland were enrolled in the CRP, and the state has started its own land conservation program with a goal of enrolling 100,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands statewide by 2002.
"The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is a super opportunity," said Joshua Sandt, deputy director of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Division. "What we have in Maryland is corridors of good wildlife habitat. With CREP, we can begin to connect them."
The federal CRP has set aside more acreage than there is in National Wildlife Refuges in the lower 48 states, and Sandt said grasslands, trees and wetlands restored under CRP are responsible for record waterfowl populations and large increases pheasants in central states and significant increases in big-game numbers in western states.
CREP is a $200 million program that is targeting restoration of 70,000 acres of riparian lands, 20,000 acres of highly erodible land and 10,000 acres of wetlands.
"We have about 100,000 acres in Wildlife Management Areas," Sandt said, "and with CREP we can double that."
Landowners interested in joining the program could be eligible for annual rental payments for converted lands for a 15-year period, as well as cost-share assistance to re-establish permanent cover.
According to Sandt, rental payments would be 150 to 170 percent of average per-acre farmland rent in the same county.
"In some counties you can get $200 per acre for putting land in retirement," said Sandt. "There is no minimum acreage. For example, a few acres along a stream-side covers a lot of ground and acts as an environmental buffer, too. And if there are abundant natural foods, wildlife will eat clover, for example, rather than soybeans."
Sandt said DNR has a $10 million fund to pay bonuses to landowners for permanent easements.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Ducks Unlimited have additional programs to assist landowners in re-establishing cover creating wetlands.
Together, the programs can strengthen the wildlife community through expanded habitat, and anyone with an interest in wildlife should benefit.
"This isn't just for hunting. It also is for quality of life," Sandt said. "Some families want to walk the property and watch the wildlife. But nowadays there isn't as much to see."
Pub Date: 3/08/98