As tar balls from the Gulf Oil Spill begin to hit Texas beaches, farmers and ranchers from Texas’ coastal counties are streaming into local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field offices to sign up for the USDA’s first-ever Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative program. The deadline for signup is Aug. 1.

“Our coastal field offices have been extremely busy,” says Kanand Brooks, NRCS assistant state conservationist. “This newly announced program offers these farmers an opportunity to benefit wildlife, while developing and enhancing habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds that migrate to Texas’ coastal marshes and wetlands.”

The proactive initiative was launched June 28 in an effort to develop and enhance habitat for the more than 50 million migratory birds that travel through the flyway to Texas for overwintering in Gulf of Mexico coastal marshes and wetlands. The initiative is administered through NRCS and its conservation programs. The agency will work with area farmers to manage portions of their land to provide a habitat for migrating bird populations to rest, feed and roost, thereby lessening adverse affects caused by oil from the Deepwater Horizon well.

In a five-county area alone in Southeast Texas, an estimated 27,500 acres of privately owned land have been funded or are in active application status for this program.

Priority counties in Texas include Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty, Matagorda, Orange, Waller, and Wharton. Adjacent eligible counties include Aransas, Austin, Fayette, Grimes, Jasper, Lavaca, Montgomery, Newton, Polk, Refugio, San Jacinto, Tyler, Victoria and Washington counties.

Supporting partners in delivery of this initiative include Ducks Unlimited, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Soil and Water Conservation Districts associated with eligible counties.

The deadline for signing up is Aug. 1. For more info, contact a local USDA Service Center in eligible counties for additional information, or visit

Areas of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri and Mississippi are also included in this national migratory bird initiative.
-- NRCS release