Habitat Programs and Grants
Private Lands Conservation Programs
Through efforts of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Division of Forestry, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation, Tennessee Wildlife Federation U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are a wide variety of voluntary programs available for private landowners to obtain technical advice and financial assistance to conserve and enhance their land with wildlife in mind.
For landowners or producers with a serious interest in wildlife habitat enhancement, technical assistance from a TWRA or conservation partner biologist is recommended; visit https://www.tn.gov/content/tn/twra/wildlife/habitat.html#assistance
Technical assistance and development of management plans are provided free of charge and do not need to be linked to participating in a formal conservation program.
U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) Programs
By far, the largest source of available funding for land conservation and habitat enhancements is available through the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the USDA-Farm Service Agency (FSA). Applications for financial assistance through these programs would need to be submitted at the local USDA Service Center, which you can find at www.farmers.gov/service-center-locator.
Through USDA you will receive technical advice from conservation professionals who will also guide you to which conservation program or programs you may qualify for, as the list of programs below and the details involved can be daunting.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is the largest conservation program in the United States. Through CSP, NRCS provides financial and technical assistance to eligible producers to conserve and enhance soil, water, air, and related natural resources on their land. Eligible lands include private or Tribal cropland, grassland, pastureland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forest lands, and other lands in agricultural areas (including cropped woodland, marshes, and agricultural land or land capable of being used for the production of livestock) on which resource concerns related to agricultural production could be addressed. Eligible lands also include lands associated with these private or Tribal agricultural lands on which a priority resource concern can be addressed through a CSP contract. CSP encourages land stewards to improve their conservation performance by installing and adopting additional conservation activities and improving, maintaining, and managing existing conservation activities on eligible land.
CSP provides two possible types of payments through five-year contracts: annual payments for installing new conservation activities and maintaining existing practices; and supplemental payments for adopting a resource-conserving crop rotation. There is a multitude of conservation practices and enhancements that can be used to improve wildlife habitats.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits such as improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, increased soil health and reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, improved or created wildlife habitat, and mitigation against increasing weather volatility.
Through EQIP, NRCS provides agricultural producers with one-on-one help and financial assistance to plan and implement improvements, or what NRCS calls conservation practices. Together, NRCS and producers invest in solutions that conserve natural resources for the future while improving agricultural operations.
NRCS will help you develop a conservation plan that meets your goals and vision. This plan becomes your roadmap for selecting the right conservation practices for your land. NRCS offers about 200 unique practices designed for working farms, ranches, and forests. Farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners who own or rent agricultural land are eligible. EQIP assistance can be used on all types of agricultural operations, including:
- Conventional and organic
- Specialty crops and commodity crops
- Forestry and wildlife
- Historically underserved farmers*
- Livestock operations
NRCS financial assistance can cover part of the costs of implementing conservation practices.
*Increased and advance payments are available for historically underserved producers (beginning, limited resources, socially disadvantaged, and military veterans).
Applications for EQIP financial assistance are accepted throughout the year. Specific state deadlines are set for ranking and funding. If your application is ranked and selected, you will enter into a contract with NRCS to receive financial assistance for the cost of implementing conservation practices. Payment rates for conservation practices are reviewed and set each fiscal year. For FY21, EQIP High Priority Practices, which will have higher payment rates, include Conservation Cover (native and pollinator scenarios only), Prescribed Burning, Field Border, Firebreak, Wildlife Planting, Native Grass Planting, Karst Sinkhole Treatment, Tree & Shrub Establishment, Restoration of Rare & Declining Natural Communities, and Forest Stand Improvement.
For landowners or producers with a serious interest in wildlife habitat enhancement, technical assistance from a TWRA or conservation partner biologist is recommended.
EQIP - Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW)
While there are numerous practices that can be used to improve land conservation and wildlife habitat in EQIP, there are several “Working Lands for Wildlife” (WLFW) funding projects that could increase your chances of securing funding.
WLFW – Northern Bobwhite
The northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus) is an upland game bird whose distinct spring “bob-white” call was familiar in the past across the state, but whose population has drastically declined across the decades. Many practices to address other resource concerns can also improve the habitat for this species.
- WLFW Bobwhite priority counties map for TN
- WLFW Bobwhite brochure
- Working Lands for Wildlife - Bobwhite
WLFW – Hellbender
The hellbender is the largest salamander in the United States and is an aquatic species that need clean water to survive. Hellbender populations have drastically declined and are today only found in segments of some streams and rivers. Farm improvement practices such as streambank stabilization and stream habitat improvements, fencing and stable stream crossings for livestock, and cover crop and no-till systems also help improve stream water quality, thereby aiding hellbenders.
The Golden-winged Warbler is a vibrantly colored migratory songbird that breeds and nests in the United States and winters in Central and South America. It utilizes young forest and shrubland habitats. Habitat restoration for the golden-winged warbler benefits many other species, including songbirds like indigo bunting, a gray catbird, and prairie warbler as well as game species like American woodcock, cottontail, wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and ruffed grouse. Targeted lands for this initiative are mainly on the northern Cumberland Plateau and extreme northeast Tennessee.
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
The purpose of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is cost-effectively assisting producers in conserving and improving soil, water, and wildlife resources, restoring wetlands by converting highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive lands generally devoted to the production of agricultural commodities to a long-term vegetative cover or improving conditions of certain grasslands. CRP participants enroll land under contracts and maintain approved cover, in exchange for annual rental payments and finances to install certain conservation
The purpose of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is cost-effectively assisting producers in conserving and improving soil, water, and wildlife resources, restoring wetlands by converting highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive lands generally devoted to the production of agricultural commodities to a long-term vegetative cover or improving conditions of certain grasslands. CRP participants enroll land under contracts and maintain approved cover, in exchange for annual rental payments and finances to install certain conservation practices. Enrollment of eligible grassland in CRP results in the adoption of sustainable grazing practices. CRP is administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). Cropland eligibility requires a history of being cropped for 4 of the 6 years between 2012 and 2017.
CRP has 3 major types of CRP signups: General, Continuous, and Grassland. There is a wide range of conservation covers that a landowner can choose to enroll their eligible land in. In return for establishing and maintaining a permanent vegetative cover under 10 to 15-year contracts, the participants receive an annual rental payment (based on soil productivity) and up to 50% cost-share for cover establishment.
The General Signup is typically held once a year with a designated enrollment period announced by the Secretary of Agriculture. Conservation practices offered in this signup are generally whole-field practices. Offers are ranked according to an Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) and offer to compete with those offered across the country. These EBI factors may include but are not limited to, wildlife habitat, water quality, and reductions in farm erosion benefits. The next General Signup is anticipated in late 2021 or early 2022.
General signup practice options most beneficial to wildlife include:
· CP2 Native Grasses and Legumes
· CP3A Hardwood Tree Planting
· CP4B Permanent Wildlife Habitat Corridors
· CP4D Permanent Wildlife Habitat
· CP12 Wildlife Food Plots (only to be included as a component of other practices)
· CP25 Rare and Declining Wildlife Habitat – Prairies and Savannahs
· CP42 Pollinator Habitat (block plantings are preferred over strips)
The Continuous Signup is offered on a continuous basis, and conservation practices offered are of high environmental value. If the applicant and land meet the criteria for the program and conservation practice chosen, the offers may be automatically accepted. Several changes have been made by USDA in 2021, including moving the CP38E SAFE Bobwhite Habitat Restoration practice from the General Signup to the Continuous Signup. Several payment rates and incentive rates have also increased. Additionally, certain practices offering enduring water quality benefits for which contracts are expiring are now eligible for a CLEAR30 (Clean Lakes, Estuaries And Lakes 30-year) initiative. Eligible practices and information on this initiative now eligible nationwide are in the first link below.
Continuous Signup applications will be accepted for the following CRP practices:
· CP8A Grass Waterway
· CP9 Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife
· CP12 Wildlife Food Plot (as a component of CP1, CP2, CP3, CP3A, CP4D, CP23, CP23A, CP25, and CP38E practices)
· CP21 Filter Strips
· CP22 Riparian Buffer
· CP23 Wetland Restoration
· CP29 Marginal Pastureland Wildlife Habitat Buffer
· CP30 Marginal Pastureland Wetland Buffer
· CP31 Bottomland Timber Establishment on Wetlands
· CP33 Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds
· CP38E SAFE Bobwhite Habitat Restoration
· CP42 – Pollinator Habitat. Limited to 10 acres per tract offered and not to exceed 10 percent of the cropland acres of the farm. Strips must be a minimum of 20 feet wide, and individual habitat areas are at least 0.5 acres in size.
· CP43 – Prairie Strips. This is a new practice for buffer strips around and/or through crop fields; may not exceed 25 percent of cropland area per field.
All Continuous CRP practices are also eligible for a Signing Incentive Payment and a Practice Incentive Payment.
A Grasslands Signup period for existing grasslands will be held from July 21 to August 20, 2021. The program emphasizes support for grazing operations, plant and animal biodiversity, and grassland and land containing shrubs and forbs under the greatest threat of conversion. Offers are ranked and preference may be given to those including land under risk of conversion, land of ecological significance, and land enrolled under an expiring CRP contract. The contract length is either 10 or 15 years. Participants will receive an annual rental payment and may receive up to 50% cost-share for establishing approved conservation practices. To find out if your grasslands are eligible for enrollment and to submit an application, contact your local Farm Service Agency office: www.farmers.gov/service-center-locator
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) promotes coordination of NRCS conservation activities with partners that offer value-added contributions to expand our collective ability to address on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns. Through RCPP, NRCS seeks to co-invest with partners to implement projects that demonstrate innovative solutions to conservation challenges and provide measurable improvements and outcomes tied to the resource concerns they seek to address.
There is currently one RCPP project in Tennessee and Kentucky that is focused on the restoration of native grasslands and shrublands, wet meadows, and improvement of livestock grazing to benefit the bobwhite quail, eastern meadowlark, and Henslow’s sparrow, all birds of high conservation interest in Tennessee.
This program has a dedicated funding source. Offers in priority counties receive higher points in the ranking process but do not preclude offers from other counties possibly being accepted for RCPP funding, or possibly being eligible for funding under another NRCS program.
- RCPP Managing for Native Pollinators
- RCPP Native Grasslands Advantage
- RCPP Managing for Native Grassland Birds
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) helps landowners, land trusts, and other entities protect, restore, and enhance wetlands, grasslands, and working farms and ranches through conservation easements. Under the Agricultural Land Easements component, NRCS helps American Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations protect working agricultural lands and limit non-agricultural uses of the land. Under the Wetlands Reserve Easements component, NRCS helps to restore, protect, and enhance enrolled wetlands.
ACEP-Agricultural Lands Easement (ACEP-ALE)
Agricultural Land Easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing the conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Land protected by agricultural land easements provides additional public benefits, including environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat, and protection of open space.
NRCS provides financial assistance to eligible partners for purchasing Agricultural Land Easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation values of eligible land. In the case of working farms, the program helps farmers and ranchers keep their land in agriculture. The program also protects grazing uses and related conservation values by conserving grassland, including rangeland, pastureland, and shrubland.
Under the Agricultural Land Easement component, NRCS may contribute up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement. Where NRCS determines that grasslands of special environmental significance will be protected, NRCS may contribute up to 75 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement.
To enroll land through agricultural land easements, eligible partners (not the landowners) may submit proposals to the NRCS State Office to acquire conservation easements on eligible land. Eligible partners include American Indian tribes, state and local governments, and non-governmental organizations that have farmland, rangeland, or grassland protection programs.
ACEP-Wetlands Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE)
Wetland Reserve Easements provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce flooding, recharge groundwater, protect biological diversity and provide opportunities for educational, scientific, and limited recreational activities.
NRCS also provides technical and financial assistance directly to private landowners and Indian tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands through the purchase of a wetland reserve easement. For acreage owned by an Indian tribe, there is an additional enrollment option of a 30-year contract.
Through the wetland reserve enrollment options, NRCS may enroll eligible land through:
Permanent Easements – Permanent easements are conservation easements in perpetuity. NRCS pays 100 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 75 to 100 percent of the restoration costs.
30-year Easements – 30-year easements expire after 30 years. Under 30-year easements, NRCS pays 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
Term Easements - Term easements are easements that are for the maximum duration allowed under applicable State laws. NRCS pays 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the term easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
30-year Contracts – 30-year contracts are only available to enroll acreage owned by Indian tribes, and program payment rates are commensurate with 30-year easements.
For wetland reserve easements, NRCS pays all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office, including recording fees, charges for abstracts, survey and appraisal fees, and title insurance. To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, landowners may apply at any time at the local USDA Service Center: www.farmers.gov/service-center-locator
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Programs
Farm Wildlife Habitat Program (FWHP)
TWRA’s Farm Wildlife Habitat Program is a modestly funded cost-share program intended to complement and “fill in the gaps” in major conservation programs available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The program is used for qualified projects on lands not eligible for USDA funding, practices that complement existing habitat conversions already under a USDA contract, or assist a landowner to begin implementing habitat projects in a timely manner when USDA funds are not available. Under an approved plan written by a TWRA Wildlife Habitat Biologist, the program provides 75% cost-share reimbursement at a maximum of $2,000 in any state fiscal year to implement prescribed habitat practices intended to restore and manage native habitats.
Habitat improvements are targeted to assist grassland, shrubland, and early successional forest species in decline including bobwhite quail, cottontail rabbits, ruffed grouse, woodcock, and many songbirds. Habitat practices include restoration of native grassland and “old field” habitats, hedgerow and shrub thicket development, forest edge thinning, eradication of invasive plants, and management practices such as prescribed burning, strip disking and herbicide application, and interseeding of native forbs and wildflowers.
Upon approval of an FWHP plan that includes at least 5 acres of habitat practices, the landowner signs the contract agreeing to protect the improved habitat for 5 years. After the practices are implemented, the landowner is reimbursed at the specified practice rates based on 75% of established state average practice costs. Applicants are considered on a first-come, first-served basis, and a contract must be approved before cost-shared practices can be done.
TWRA Wildlife Habitat Biologists also develop habitat management plans free of charge and can help guide you to other opportunities to potentially help fund your habitat restoration or enhancement practices.
Contact your local TWRA Private Lands Wildlife Habitat Biologist:
NOTE: While State employees and/or their spouses can receive free technical assistance from TWRA through the Farm Wildlife Habitat Program, Tennessee state law prohibits them from receiving any direct or indirect payments.
Tennessee Division of Forestry
Forest Stewardship Program
The Forest Stewardship program makes forestry assistance available to private forest landowners and increases public awareness about wise forest use and management. The program focuses on developing detailed plans for privately owned forestland based on the specific objectives of the owner. Free, on-the-ground planning assistance is provided by natural resource specialists under the leadership of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.
Depending upon landowners' objectives, stewardship plans may contain detailed recommendations for improvement of wildlife habitat and development of recreational opportunities, as well as for timber establishment, stand improvement, and harvesting. Guidelines for the prevention of soil erosion, protection of water quality, and preservation of visual values are included in all stewardship plans.
To qualify, landowners must:
· have 10 acres or more of forestland
· obtain and implement a forest stewardship plan
· have at least one secondary management objective in addition to their primary objective
· protect the land from erosion and prevent pollution of streams and lakes
· carry out the plan according to standards that maintain the productivity of forest resources and protect the environment.
For more information on this program, contact your local forester:
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation
Tennessee Stream Mitigation Program (TSMP)
The Tennessee Stream Mitigation Program (TSMP) was created to offset adverse physical impacts associated with both state and federal water quality permits. The goal of the TSMP is to both improve water quality and riparian habitat in and along with Tennessee’s degraded aquatic resources. The TSMP is a statewide program that provides 100% cost-share for all projects it funds. Stream restoration, bank stabilization, riparian restoration, and livestock exclusion are a few examples of the types of mitigation opportunities that the TSMP is looking for throughout the state.
Through valuable partnerships with government agencies such as NRCS, TDEC, TDA, and non-profit conservation groups, the TSMP identifies streams where the physical habitat has been impaired or degraded. With permission and cooperation from participating landowners, the TSMP designs and implements mitigation projects that benefit both the stream and the landowner. All TSMP projects are constructed at no cost to the landowner. Mitigation projects are monitored for success over a period of two to five years and must be protected by a perpetual conservation easement.
To learn more about the TSMP please visit the Web site at www.tsmp.us or contact at 615-831-9311.
Tennessee Wildlife Federation
TWF Habitat Conservation Program
Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Habitat Conservation program partners with private landowners and public agencies to restore and conserve habitat in four major habitat types in Tennessee—wetlands, grasslands, forests, and streams. The program also leverages the Federation’s expertise and connections to facilitate the acquisition of critical lands and to improve access to Tennessee’s most prized public lands.
The Habitat Conservation program carefully seeks projects that provide significant value to the context of the surrounding landscape, not simply create an isolated habitat. These restoration and conservation projects are possible through a variety of funding sources, including fee-for-service agreements, grants, mitigation fees, and government contracts.
To learn more about the program and if your property may be eligible, visit tnwf.org/conservation or contact Chris Roberts, director of conservation, at (615) 353-1133.
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Partners for Fish and Wildlife
The Partners for Fish and Wildlife program seeks to restore, improve, and protect fish and wildlife habitat on private lands through alliances between the USFWS, other organizations, and individuals while leaving the land in private ownership.
Eligible projects are those that benefit state or federal threatened and endangered species, forested riparian habitat, fragmented aquatic habitat, wetlands, and their adjacent uplands, and other important migratory bird habitats, such as native grassland restoration.
The contract length is a minimum of 10 years. Applicants work with the USFWS biologists to discuss potential projects. Contact the Tennessee Ecological Services Field Office in Cookeville, TN at 931-528-6481.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has grants available for aquatic stream clean-up projects across the state. The program assists cities, schools, community organizations, civic groups, watershed organizations, and conservation groups.