QF On the Landscape in Ohio
By Abby-Gayle Prieur, Ohio Farm Bill Biologist
Opportunity came knocking for wildlife enthusiasts and the Quail Forever biologist team in Ohio this year. When the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) was announced for 2022, word came that the program would offer approximately 2.5 million dollars to help landowners create and improve wildlife habitat on private lands in the state. EQIP is a nation-wide program that provides agricultural producers and landowners with technical and financial assistance for projects that protect natural resources. This Farm Bill program, administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), supports activities ranging from installing high tunnels to seeding upland habitat.
Each year, NRCS obligates money for different EQIP “funding pools” according to current priorities and initiatives. News of so much funding being available in the wildlife fund pools was surprising based on past allocations. On average, Ohio’s annual EQIP wildlife funding had been less than a quarter of that offered in 2022. Furthermore, 2021 was the first year that Ohio spent all the money offered for wildlife work, meaning the typical smaller sum was sufficient to fund landowners who filled applications.
The local NRCS staff and partner biologists were determined to attract more landowners to the program than ever before. There was no promise that there would be such an opportunity again in the future. Conservation staff also wanted to send the message to the national NRCS team that Ohio landowners value and prioritize wildlife habitat! How would Ohio answer the call?
Fortunately, the wildlife partner network in Ohio is strong. NRCS, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the Division of Wildlife, Division of Forestry, and of course, your trusty QF biologist team, were already connected with wildlife-motivated landowners and were informed of how to establish habitat using EQIP. Secondly, the NRCS, cooperatively with the National Wild Turkey Federation, released a Wild Turkey Priority Funding announcement that marketed pollinator fields as quality turkey brood rearing habitat. Word about “Turkey EQIP” spread like wildfire and the field office staff started receiving calls from interested landowners. Apparently, game birds are the key to an Ohioan’s heart!
In the end, the money was fully allocated to high quality habitat projects. Once applications were in and processed, NRCS had received around 8 million dollars in requests from landowners wanting to improve wildlife habitat in Ohio, an unprecedented amount for the state. Of the applications submitted, roughly 200 projects were contracted to move forward. About 65 percent of these projects included a habitat seeding activity that will result in 130 highly diverse grassland habitats across the state. The Ohio QF biologist team impacted 130 acres of habitat seeding projects and improved 993 acres total through funded EQIP projects. These newly established fields, improved woodland edges, and forests free of invasive shrubs, will serve quail, pheasants, pollinators, and a variety of other native wildlife across the state. I’d say Ohio landowners and habitat partners answered the call of the uplands in 2022.
This story originally appeared in the 2023 Winter Issue of the Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Quail Forever member today!