Elk NetworkUSDA Award to Bolster Arizona Wildlife Habitat Improvement Project

Conservation | April 17, 2020

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation partnered with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to help secure $2,857,143 in leveraged Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funding in Arizona to restore grassland and woodland habitat connectivity. NRCS is investing $206 million in 48 partner-driven conservation projects across 29 states through its Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Partners are making nearly $300 million in contributions. RMEF has a long history of conservation in Arizona, especially across elk habitat. This project will bridge shared interests and goals for wildlife habitat and agriculture producers to improve habitat that will benefit elk, mule deer, and pronghorn as well as a suite of nongame species.

Below is a news release from the Arizona Game and Fish Department about the project.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) will leverage $2.85 million for wildlife habitat improvement projects through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, RCPP uses a partner-driven approach, matching the contributions of partnering organizations dollar-for-dollar to provide for an even bigger impact on the ground. A dozen partners, including the Arizona State Land Department, added significant contributions to leverage RCPP’s investment.

Other partners include:

  • Arizona Antelope Federation
  • Arizona Deer Association
  • Arizona Elk Society
  • Arizona Mule Deer Organization
  • Mule Deer Foundation
  • Pheasants Forever/Quail Forever
  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
  • Big Sandy Natural Resource Conservation District
  • Arizona Department of Forest and Fire Management
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“NRCS has been, and continues to be, a key partner in the conservation of Arizona’s wildlife,” said Ty Gray, AZGFD director. “This latest RCPP will double the amount of funding the department and our partners are putting on the ground for projects that mutually benefit both livestock operations and wildlife habitat.”

AZGFD proposes to restore grassland and woodland habitat connectivity between two recently completed RCPP projects — the Central Arizona Grassland Conservation Strategy, and the Northern Arizona Grassland Initiative — by removing invasive trees and shrubs from 50,000 acres, removing or replacing 12 miles of fencing that isn’t “wildlife-friendly,” and installing several man-made water developments.

These efforts will improve wildlife habitat quality by increasing the presence of grass, forb and palatable shrub cover, while allowing for easier movement of pronghorn and mule deer.

“Because most of the work will occur on State Trust lands, this project would not be possible without the cooperation of the Arizona State Land Department, which has been another great partner,” said Wade Zarlingo, AZGFD’s landowner relations program specialist.

Don McDowell, president of the Arizona Deer Association, said his organization adopted this project as a “premier wildlife enhancement” project. “The project benefits all species of wildlife and does not focus on a single species,” he said.

This RCPP award also will allow for the continuation of work being done under the Game Management Unit 18A Habitat Enhancement Project. This project includes the largest number of partners, acres treated and funding in AZGFD history.

NRCS announced it is investing in 48 conservation projects across 29 states, including Arizona, through the RCPP. NRCS will award $206 million for these 48 RCPP projects, while leveraging nearly $300 million in partner contributions.

Since 2015, RCPP has combined $1 billion in NRCS investments with close to $2 billion in partner dollars to implement conservation practices nationwide. There are 341 active RCPP projects and nearly 2,000 RCPP partners.

(Photo source: U.S. Forest Service)