USDA wildlife habitat program going strong 30 years, 1 million acres later

Farm Forum

Farmers and ranchers were among the first to practice conservation. It’s not surprising when you think about it. They’ve always understood the importance of caring for our land and water, and they depend on our natural resources for their livelihoods. They’re at the forefront of our country’s efforts to keep the land healthy, productive and resilient. And we’re proud to partner with them in that effort.

This year, we’re celebrating two more conservation milestones: the 30th anniversary of USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), one of the largest private lands conservation programs in the nation; and registering the 1 millionth acre in CRP’s State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative.

The 1 millionth acre is part of the Coteau-Drift SAFE, located in North Dakota. The state has a total of four SAFE projects, covering over 122,000 acres. The projects are helping a wide range of species – from pheasants, grouse, prairie-chicken, grey partridge, deer and other game animals – flourish and grow. The Coteau-Drift SAFE is designed to register more than 69,000 acres in the state’s Missouri Plateau and Drift Prairie region to support waterfowl, shorebirds and terrestrial birds.

Through SAFE, state agencies, nonprofit conservation organizations, and even local groups work together to identify at-risk wildlife, and to submit proposals to USDA for review. Once approved, agricultural producers within an approved SAFE area can voluntarily enroll acres in 10 to 15 year contracts. In exchange, USDA provides annual rental payments, incentives, and cost-share assistance for establishing plant species that attract wildlife. There are now 98 SAFE habitat partnerships in 37 states and Puerto Rico.

And the numbers don’t end there. Each year, through CRP programs, we work with hundreds of thousands of farmers and ranchers to implement voluntary conservation practices on their operations. CRP, one of the largest private lands conservation programs in the nation, provides significant economic and environmental benefits to hundreds of rural communities.

CRP initiatives, like SAFE, encourage federal, state and local partnerships, showing us that when we all work together, everyone benefits.

Visit to learn more about our conservation efforts and how you can be part of the movement. Farmers and ranchers who want to offer land in SAFE and CRP can contact a local FSA county office.