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Incentives given to farmers who enhance wildlife

VIDALIA — With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill threatening marshes in south Louisiana, conservation officials are looking to find ways to get migratory wildlife to stay in the Miss-Lou.

A new program offering incentive payments for farmers who enhance farmland for wildlife has been started, and Concordia Parish has been designated as a priority area, Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist Ben Taunton said.

“The idea is they will enhance that duck habitat by doing some conservation practices that provide food and water to try to keep (migratory birds) from getting in the oil in the marshes,” Taunton said.

Areas that are eligible for the program include wetlands that are being farmed and cropland that has previously been converted to wetlands, and information provided by the NRCS notes that rice fields are particularly suited to the task.

Most shorebirds forage for food in shallow water — less than 4 inches deep — and waterfowl tend to look for food in water that is less than a foot deep.

One of the practices the program looks to use to attract the migratory birds to the area is by keeping fields flooded under shallow water for longer periods of time, Taunton said.

“If they start these practices in the next few months we hope to have these habitats in this area ready for when these birds show up,” he said.

And even if the birds initially bypass the local habitats, Taunton said the fields still need to be ready.

“The goal is to give them an opportunity to stop and even if they get to the marsh, they come back here,” he said. “It gives them more food sources and opportunities up and down the flyways.”

The NRCS initiative is being applied in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

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