Programs pay farmers to help prairie chickens - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Programs pay farmers to help prairie chickens

UNDATED (AP) -- A new state-federal program will pay farmland owners in 11 Missouri counties to set aside land as habitat and nesting grounds for prairie chickens.

Iowa, New Mexico, and Texas are among the states making similar offers to their farmers to reverse the decline in prairie chicken habitat.

The wild fowl once roamed the prairies in the hundreds of thousands. But fewer than 400 to 500 birds remaining in Missouri, and their future is tenuous. Their need for safe nesting sites and room to roam led to a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Missouri Department of Conservation to create new habitat from cropland.

A long-standing USDA program pays farmers not to plant crops on lands that are highly erodible or that could serve as a buffer for streams or as wildlife habitat. Now, the program includes prairie chicken restoration efforts.

The government payments over a 15-year contract would come just as farmers struggle to get operating loans for next spring's planting.

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