Since 1993, private landowners have voluntarily restored over 365,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Louisiana alone making them key partners in BBCC’s plan to restore the Louisiana Black Bear.
About the Program
The Landowner Assistance Program is a prime example of the innovative strategies the BBCC is known for in the conservation arena. The BBCC met with agencies and organizations to determine the best way to address the issue of forest restoration in the region. The group recognized that, while there are many incentive programs available to private landowners for restoration, program administration keeps people from having much time to promote the programs themselves. Consequently, the BBCC initiated the Landowner Assistance Program in the summer of 2003.
There are many federal, state, and private conservation programs available to landowners that offer assistance for conversion of non-productive farmland back to bottomland hardwood forest. Unfortunately, there are so many programs and each program has different types of easements, cost-share plans, and other financial and technical assistance that it can get to be a very complex decision-making process. Interested landowners may be unfamiliar with many of those programs, and selecting the most appropriate program for their needs can be overwhelming.
The Landowner Assistance Program is a resource to encourage private landowner involvement in forest restoration programs. The BBCC program consists of monthly workshops, initially in towns within the bear recovery area along the Mississippi River in Louisiana and Mississippi. During a landowner workshop, there is discussion of black bear ecology, current bear restoration efforts, and ways to avoid nuisance bear behavior. An approach is asserted that bears are an asset to the private landowner. There are several programs that award landowners extra points if they either have or potentially could have good bear habitat. These extra “bear” points help landowners out-compete other landowner applications that don’t have a black bear component on their land.
For each workshop, the BBCC provides a summary of 12 different assistance programs offered by state and federal agencies as well as private organizations, including the BBCC’s own conservation program.
The BBCC’s conservation program started in 2003, when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) awarded the BBCC a Private Stewardship Grant of $85,200.That grant was used to assist 10 private landowners in planting bottomland hardwood species on 860 acres of marginal cropland. The BBCC program planted a minimum of 12 different species on reforestation sites based on procedures used by the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. The BBCC strongly believes restoring functional forests with multiple tree canopy species will reap many more benefits for both the resource and the landowner than restricting restoration to only a few tree species. Site conditions, historical vegetation types, and landowner preferences determine species selection. In exchange for the BBCC covering 90% of the restoration costs, the landowners agree to leave the trees in the ground for at least 25 years.
The BBCC applied for another Private Stewardship Grant in 2004 to expand our activities to include habitat enhancement. That proposal was accepted and the BBCC received a $65,800 grant for planting trees and habitat improvement and demonstration projects. The program involved the removal of Chinese tallow trees, an invasive exotic species that quickly dominates the early stages of forest succession and inhibits native forest restoration. The BBCC will also set up control programs for feral hog populations to decrease the habitat damage where this species overlaps with bear range.
Benefits Beyond Bears
While the Landowner Assistance Program focus is linking and expanding bottomland hardwood forest to recover the Louisiana black bear, the BBCC also explains how this restoration benefits much more than just bears. There are many plant and animal species that rely on bottomland hardwoods for different life stages and requirements, including 60 rare species and 7 rare community types. People benefit as well when these forests are restored. The change from nonproductive farmland to bottomland hardwood forest results in increases in water quality, improved retention and gradual release of flood waters, better storage of carbon dioxide in forest biomass, and quality wildlife habitat, which creates new hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreational opportunities. After each workshop, the BBCC provides follow-up consultations with individual landowners to identify programs that best suit their needs and qualifications and to assist in finalizing conservation agreements.