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July 7, 2008

Governor Blagojevich encourages Illinois landowners to take part in new SAFE program
Initiative promotes grassland/wetland habitat restoration in prairie landscapes

SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today encouraged landowners in targeted areas of the state to participate in a new habitat enhancement program with the USDA Farm Service Agency, called the State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative.  The program is designed to help address Illinois wildlife conservation needs and the goal is to significantly increase the abundance of grassland wildlife including endangered, declining and economically important species within highly focused project areas in the Grand Prairie and Southern Till Plain Natural Divisions of Illinois.
“This is a step in the right direction toward achieving state wildlife conservation objectives,” said Governor Blagojevich.  “The SAFE program provides financial incentives for agricultural producers to install practices on their land that achieve these objectives, through targeted restoration of vital habitat, and I encourage landowners to look into this program.”
In Illinois, more than 99 percent of native prairie has been converted to other land uses.  Meanwhile, the acreage of hay, pasture and other agricultural grasslands has declined by more than 50 percent in 50 years.  The Illinois Wildlife Action Plan identifies a majority of the amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals that require grassland habitat as “Species in Greatest Need of Conservation.”
Secondary goals of the SAFE program include increasing opportunity for high quality wildlife-related recreational experiences, soil stabilization and enhancement, carbon sequestration, and water quality improvement.
“This program addresses the highest priority wildlife objectives that are identified in the Illinois Wildlife Action Plan,” said IDNR Acting Director Sam Flood.
The Illinois SAFE program seeks to establish 20,600 acres of grasslands and herbaceous wetlands in project areas where the best possible success by grassland wildlife will be achieved.  
  • In the Grand Prairie project areas, 10,300 acres of grassland habitat will be established in association with the IDNR Pheasant Habitat Areas to meet the ecological needs of ring-necked pheasant and other grassland wildlife.
  • In the Southern Till Plain project areas, 10,300 acres of grasslands will be established in conjunction with the Prairie Ridge State Natural Area to meet the ecological needs of greater prairie chickens.
Why is the SAFE program targeting these areas and species?
  • Only about 200 greater prairie chickens remain in the “Prairie State.”
  • Harvest of ring-necked pheasants has fallen by 80 percent since 1960, including a 65 percent drop since 1995, when a reduction in Conservation Reserve Program acres began.
  • Since the mid 1960s, the North American Breeding Bird Survey has documented declines of 70-95 percent for dickcissels, eastern meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows in Illinois.
SAFE acres will provide reserves of biodiversity by hosting large numbers of native plants and animals and increasing populations of many of Illinois’ wildlife “Species in Greatest Need of Conservation.”  Program acres will also provide grassland wildlife viewing opportunities and an abundance of upland game birds for high quality hunting opportunities.  Lands enrolled will contribute to reductions in soil erosion, improved soil quality, increased carbon sequestration, improved water quality, increased water infiltration, and reduced runoff of fertilizers and pesticides.  Economic benefits will also come in the form of land rental and other incentive payments and reduced production inputs on marginal cropland.
Because enrollment is limited to 20,600 acres in Illinois, the program is targeted to specific geographic areas in 33 counties with the greatest potential to restore grassland habitats. 
In the Grand Prairie Natural Division, 22 township-sized areas have been identified in portions of Bureau, Carroll, Champaign, DeKalb, Dewitt, Ford, Henry, Iroquois, Knox, LaSalle, Lee, Livingston, Logan Marshall, Mason, McLean, Montgomery, Ogle, Sangamon, Stephenson, Tazewell, Vermilion, Whiteside, Winnebago, and Woodford counties.
In the Southern Till Plain Natural Division, the nine focus areas are large, open upland landscapes surrounding the remnant populations of greater prairie chickens at Prairie Ridge State Natural Area and portions of Clay, Clinton, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Marion, Richland, and Washington counties. 
Conservation practices approved for the Illinois SAFE program in the Grand Prairie and Southern Till Plain Focus Areas are CP38B, Herbaceous Wetlands and CP38E, Grasslands.  Staff at local FSA Service Centers can provide details on specific grassland or wetland practices.
The following incentives are available to producers participating in the Illinois SAFE program:
  • Sign up Incentive Payment of up to $100 per acre
  • Practice Incentive Payment of up to 40 percent of the eligible establishment cost, in addition to the normal 50 percent cost share
  • Annual Rental Payments for 10 to 15 years (producers option)
  • Maintenance Incentive Payments of up to $2 per acre to perform maintenance obligations
  • Cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent for management activities to maintain wildlife values of grasslands
Eligible land is cropland.  To determine individual eligibility for SAFE, landowners can contact their local FSA office.  Program sign up at local FSA offices will be on a continuous basis.  More program details, including maps of project areas, are available on the IDNR Web site: http://dnr.state.il.us (click on the “State Acres For Wildlife” link on the home page).
Partners with the IDNR and Farm Service Agency to implement the Illinois SAFE program include: the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Quail Unlimited, Quail Forever, Illinois Audubon Society, National Wild Turkey Federation, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and Kaskaskia Watershed Association.


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