Native plant and animal protection plan launched

The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to help provide landowners protect native plants and animals.

Officials with the USDA Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) will accept until Jan. 24 applications for funds to protect and conserve native plants and animals on private lands or on state lands leased to individuals.

The project is intended to complement a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to create critical habitat designations for more than 60,000 acres on Kaua’i and Ni’ihau to protect endangered native plants.

Hawai’i has the largest number of endangered plant and animal species in the nation, and the WHIP project is intended to prevent them from becoming extinct, said Terrell Kelley, state biologist with the National Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the USDA.

Because of ongoing government efforts to protect Hawai’i’s; rare plants and animals, the WHIP program would be “particularly helpful for our landowners here,” said Kelley.

“We want to help folks who are restoring native habitats,” she said.

Under a criteria used to fund projects, property owners would be given “additional points” if their properties are in critical habitat designation zones established by Fish and Wildlife, Kelley said.

The WHIP program has caught the attention of property owners on Kaua’i.

Although numbers were not immediately available, Kelley said of all the islands, Kaua’i has had the largest number of applications for the WHIP program and projects that received the largest funding.

For the USDA project, financial assistance is available to owners of agricultural land nonagricultural lands to “cost-share” up to 75 percent of individual eligible wildlife projects which “treat targeted resource concerns,” Ken Kaneshiro, state conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, said in a statement.

The program’s goal includes restoration of native forest, protection of rare, threatened and endangered species and enhancement of unique native habitats, Kelley said.

She said landowners who propose projects to revitalize coastal habitats supporting rare plants, seabirds, monk seals or turtles, streams with native organism, anchialine pools, wetlands and caves are encouraged to apply for the WHIP funding, Kelley said.

Unlike in previous WHIP projects, there will not be a $10,000 cap on wildlife projects.

In addition to financial help, NRCS will provide technical assistance to help WHIP participants design, plan and implement conservation projects, Kelley said.

Through the national Farm Bill, the federal government set aside $15 million for the WHIP program last year, Kelley said, adding that more funding for the program is proposed in the future.

For fiscal year 2003, $30 million is proposed, $65 million is proposed for fiscal year 2004 and $85 million is proposed each year for the following three years, Kelley said.

In fiscal year 2002, Hawai’i received $205,000, although there totaled $1 million in funding requests for projects, Kelley said.

Those interested in the WHIP program should contact the local USDA Service Center Farm Service Agency, National Resources Conservation Service or the Soil and Water Conservation District office.

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