Flood Irrigation Practices Offer Win-Win for Ranchers and Wildlife

The semi-nomadic White-faced ibis in southeastern Idaho have significant colonies on numerous wildlife management areas and surrounding agricultural lands in this corner of the state. Partners across the West are committed to keeping these populations vibrant and they are using a variety of tools to do so.

White-faced ibis in flooded meadow. 

Farm Bill conservation programs administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) deliver much-needed federal funds to private landowners willing to improve wildlife habitat in Idaho and across the nation. Farm Bill programs offer many opportunities to work with landowners to accomplish both short- and long-term goals for waterfowl and waterbirds.

Ibis are clearly selecting for shallow flooded crop fields (aka flood-irrigated wetlands) as preferred foraging areas. In order to preserve these populations, we must work together to maintain flood irrigated agricultural operations, as well as conserve and restore wetlands for the long-term viability of these populations. Cost-share programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program can provide the technical and financial assistance that landowners need to maintain their flood irrigation systems.

Feeding White-faced ibis.

The programs help offset costs incurred from the repair and enhancement of these systems and the management of crop rotations that provide both economic return and habitat.

NRCS also has a host of easement programs available to secure these critical habitat areas into the future.  The Wetland Reserve Program focuses on securing an easement and restoring previously altered wetlands.  The Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program place easements on working lands that can provide valuable habitat for wetland dependent species as well as sustainable agricultural production into the future. Another often-overlooked option for benefitting Ibis is employing the wetland practices available under the Conservation Reserve Program. 

Together, these programs offer tools for landowners and conservationists to meet both production and habitat goals. Partners are encouraged to connect landowners with their local NRCS office and these programs. The conservation of White-faced Ibis and other wetland dependent birds depends on it. For more information contact your local NRCS office.


Also in the Spring, 2013 issue of Conservation Roundup: