Shorebirds migrating along the Midcontinent Flyway, going through interior North America from their Arctic nesting grounds to their wintering grounds in South America, require plentiful habitat throughout their journeys to rest and refuel. For over half a million shorebirds of 28 species, Louisiana is a critical stopover location during migration. These birds are often emaciated when they arrive in the fall and depend on this land to bulk up on invertebrates before crossing the Gulf of Mexico and continuing on their way.
While their natural habitat consists of wetlands and swamps, land managed by humans, including rice and crawfish farms, can actually provide excellent habitat for these birds, especially during their southbound migration. By adopting post-harvest practices to hold or collect water, these agricultural fields that provide food for humans can also serve migratory shorebirds and other wildlife.
The value of these landscapes is reflected by the Shorebirds of Louisiana Wetlands (SLW) Initiative, a state priority within the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Working Lands for Wildlife program. This initiative provides technical and financial support for farmers and producers who grow rice and crawfish in Louisiana to adopt certain practices that help their land serve as valuable habitat. For example, partners in this program are advised to keep water on agricultural fields in late summer and early fall, rather than draining it, to create additional habitat for the millions of shorebirds to forage on during migration.
For the past year, we have been working with NRCS, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), and other partners in Louisiana to help increase enrollment in this initiative through providing outreach, support, and shorebird expertise. Our goal for this effort was to enroll 6,000 acres within the first two years of the program; however, COVID, as well as Hurricanes Laura, Delta, and now Ida, have made meeting this goal especially difficult.