Tree facts: Plant trees for wildlife using Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program

Farm Forum

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is holding an abbreviated sign-up for the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP). This is a rare opportunity for you to sign-up, get approved and be ready to plant trees and shrubs for wildlife next spring. The application deadline is September 6, applications will be ranked by September 12, pre-approved by September 13 and money obligated to contracts by September 25.

WHIP is a voluntary program for developing or improving high quality wildlife habitat. Through WHIP the NRCS provides technical and financial to private and Tribal landowners for the development of upland, wetland, aquatic and other types of wildlife habitat.

The WHIP program provides an opportunity for landowners that are interested in planting shelterbelts to create wildlife habitat. Trees and shrubs especially native species add critical wildlife habitat to the landscape. They provide food, cover, nesting sites and travel corridors for wildlife. Besides supporting a wide variety of wildlife, trees and shrubs enhance property, income and our lives. A minimum of 10 rows is required in a shelterbelt to provide wildlife habitat. The types of species planted should be specific to the needs of the types of wildlife targeted for benefit. Shrub rows should be located on the outside rows of the shelterbelt to provide diverse cover and food.

Trees and shrubs in shelterbelts provide wildlife food in the form of seeds, berries, nuts, fruits, leaves, twigs, roots, buds and stems. It is best if shelterbelts can be located in close proximity to water as all animals need access to good clean water. A shelterbelt planted to a wide variety of shrubs and trees provides a variety of cover for wildlife from the tree canopy down to burrows in the ground.

Properly designed and located shelterbelts for wildlife also protect soil, crops, livestock and buildings from harsh winds. Over 50 bird species are known to use shelterbelts during the breeding season. The microclimate that shelterbelts create, enable large and small animals to thrive and even native beneficial insects to pollinate crops and make honey more efficiently.

Diversity of vegetation in a shelterbelt is very beneficial to wildlife. Combining a variety of evergreen and broadleaf trees and shrubs that flower and fruit throughout the growing season benefit numerous wildlife species. Native trees and shrubs provide better habitat for wildlife and are better adapted to local growing conditions. Planting a diversity of species reduces the possibilities of losing all plants to a disease, insects or a catastrophic event.

Other conservation practices can be implemented with WHIP. Examples include prairie restoration with native grasses and forbs, exclusion of livestock from certain areas and developing water sources can be done if there are wildlife benefits to planning these practices.

My sources for this news article were the National Agroforestry Center and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. If you would like more information about how to “Plant trees for wildlife using WHIP” call your local NRCS Office or Bob Drown at the Conservation Office at 605-244-5222, Extension 4 or by e-mail at