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January 10, 2013

State, county seek assistance with bird-nesting program

Property owners in northern Otsego County and migratory birds alike could benefit from a grassland protection program being promoted by state officials and the Otsego County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is willing to pay landowners in some areas of New York for maintaining grasslands in areas that are known nesting spots for certain species of endangered or protected migratory birds, said Scott Fickbohm, manager of the local Soil and Conservation District.

“Due to changing land-use patterns, natural vegetative succession, and development, grasslands are fragmenting and disappearing,” DEC officials said in announcing the program.

To be eligible for the state funding, tracts must have grassland parcels that are at least 25 acres. Officials said research has shown grassland birds need large, uninterrupted habitat patches to thrive. Parcels of more than 30 acres in size will receive priority points in DEC’s project evaluation and scoring process.

Grant amounts, officials said, hinge on the acreage of habitat that is accepted by the program. The minimum grant amount corresponds to 25 acres, at a rate of $110 per acre, paid over five years, or $13,750. Large unbroken parcels of high quality habitat are most desirable for species conservation.

“The goal of the program is to have landowners manage their land in a way that benefits these rare and endangered migratory birds,” Fickbohm told The Daily Star.

Parts of Cherry Valley, Springfield and Richfield may be considered for the program, Fickbohm said. Parts of western Schoharie County may also be considered, as they show up in a state map of “focus areas” for grasslands protection.

Grasslands are home to such species as the endangered short-eared owl, the threatened Henslow’s sparrow and upland sandpiper, according to state officials.

Some species of migratory birds have experienced an “astounding” decline due to habitat loss since 1966, according to state literature promoting the program.

Landowners, in order to collect the grant money, must agree to follow certain land management practices, such as not mowing the habitat area from late April through mid-August each year and removing shrubs, trees and invasive species.

Fickbohm said the Soil and Water Conservation District office will offer guidance and information to land owners seeking to participate. To contact the office, call 547-8337.

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