February brings a mix of early blossoms and lingering snowflakes, along with preparations for the next growing season. Wild Farm Alliance is happy to announce the addition of two new staff members to our team as we grow and expand our programming in 2023. Read more about the new staff members below.
This month we also provide details about funding opportunities for conservation practices made available through the Inflation Reduction Act. Additionally, we share several articles about the benefits of native habitat for bringing life back to the landscape, including one featuring our executive director and one featuring WFA consultant Sam Earnshaw of Hedgerows Unlimited. Finally, we share a study on the effect of climate extremes on California songbirds.
Enjoy this month’s news!
WFA Welcomes Two New Staff Members
WFA is growing! We are thrilled to introduce two new staff members who joined the team this month.
Jen Paludi, WFA’s new Program Director, has extensive experience working on planning and implementing conservation practices throughout California. She comes to WFA from her work with Coastal Resource Conservation District, Creek Lands Conservation and a diversity of other organizations, where she led various programs working with landowners, land managers, farmers and ranchers. Jen will lead visioning and implementation of WFA’s three Farmland program areas, including expanding our work outside of California. Jen says she is ”excited to be part of and witness the evolving patchwork of working lands and the environment, as they continue to weave together in mutually beneficial ways through the work of WFA and other groups.”
Stephen Pryor joined as our Technical Advisor working to expand our natural enemies habitat work and on the ground technical assistance with growers to implement conservation plans and projects in California. His background as an entomologist, organic inspector and Pest Control Advisor will help WFA expand our reach, while meeting the needs of growers who want to bring nature back to their farms. Stephen says he looks forward to “helping growers address some of their most significant pests using habitat enhanced biocontrol rather than toxic chemicals.”
Conservation Funding Now Available through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)
The IRA provides USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with $19.5 billion in additional funds over five years for its existing conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
The IRA directs NRCS to use these additional funds specifically for climate smart agriculture practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve carbon storage, like: Cover Crops, Reduced-Till and No-Till, Nutrient Management, Prescribed Grazing, Tree/Shrub Establishment, and Wetland Restoration.
Deadlines are coming up as early as March 17 for some programs in some states, including California. Click here to see the deadlines by state. If you are interested in submitting an application, contact your local NRCS office soon.
For a list of NRCS climate-smart mitigation activities, eligible for IRA funding in fiscal year 2023, see: nrcs.usda.gov/mitigation-activities.pdf.
Farming with the Wild: A Bioneers Interview with Jo Ann Baumgartner
WFA’s Executive Director talks biodiversity on the farm in a recently published interview with Arty Mangan of Bioneers.
"There is solid evidence that many bird species help reduce crop damage and/or increase yields, so why not support the birds if they’re going to help you economically? But for me, it’s more than just about economics. We need, as Leopold wrote back in the 1930s, an ecological conscience. We can’t just assume that everything that’s good for us is good for all the other organisms on the planet. We have to consider the needs of other species as well." - Jo Ann Baumgartner, Wild Farm Alliance
The Edges Matter: Hedgerows Are Bringing Life Back to Farms
By Anne Marshall-Chalmers
Researchers have found that planting hedgerows helps farmers sequester carbon in the soil, manage pests, and provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.
Hedgerows are straightforward strips of shrubs or trees roughly 15 feet wide, but they highlight nature’s complex work, says soil scientist Jessica Chiartas. At the surface of the soil around them, “you have a buildup of litter: leaves, stems, dead insects, feces, whatever organic materials are deposited,” she explains. When it rains, the organic matter dissolves and moves deeper into the soil profile. That “litter layer” also protects soil temperature and moisture, creating a stable, thriving soil food web that pulls organic materials deeper into the ground. “We’re not fighting biology,” she says. “It’s efficient.”
Kansas Research Shows Reintroducing Bison on Tallgrass Prairie Doubles Plant Diversity
By Tim Carpenter
Decades of research led by scientists at Kansas State University offered evidence that reintroducing bison to roam the tallgrass prairie gradually doubled plant diversity and improved resilience to extreme drought. “Bison were an integral part of North American grasslands before they were abruptly removed from over 99% of the Great Plains,” said lead researcher Zak Ratajczak
Researchers examined plant composition and diversity on sections of land with no mega-grazers present, with bison allowed to graze throughout the year and with domestic cattle allowed to graze during the growing season.
“Our results suggest that many grasslands in the central Great Plains have substantially lower plant biodiversity than would have occurred before bison were widely wiped out,” Ratajczak said. “Returning or ‘rewilding’ native megafauna could help to restore grassland biodiversity.”
Climate Extremes Threaten California’s Central Valley Songbirds
By J. Besl
A “nestbox highway” in California’s Central Valley is guiding songbirds to safe nesting sites and giving scientists a peek at fledgling success in a changing climate.
On a hot day in California’s Central Valley, Melanie Truan opened a handmade cedar birdbox. Inside sat a clutch of young ash-throated flycatchers, still fluffy with developing feathers. She tagged the birds’ little legs, weighed them, returned them, and moved on. There were plenty more stops to make that day on a 50-kilometer (30-mile) stretch of Putah Creek known as the nestbox highway. The highway is a collection of hundreds of nesting boxes placed by researchers as part of a long-term study of songbirds’ adaptation to climate and land use changes and is operated by the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology at the University of California, Davis. Truan, a research ecologist, started the project in 2000 as part of her doctoral research. The time- and labor-intensive study requires an army of student interns to visit every box, every week of the nesting season, every year.”