Program Goal:

The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) is a federal program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The purpose is to provide technical assistance and cost-share payments to establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat on private lands.

Program Description:

Common cost sharing projects include restoring grasslands, restoring riparian habitats, prescribed burning, and restoring or creating habitats for rare species.

There are 1-10 year contracts available, as well as long-term contracts that can range 15+ years.

Participants cannot use more than one USDA program for the same conservation practice. However, WHIP can be combined with other USDA programs that cover conservation practices other than those proposed in the WHIP contract. Participants agree to develop and follow a WHIP conservation plan and to maintain conservation practices for their expected lifespan, even if those practices extend beyond the contract length.

Landowner Eligibility:

Applicants must own or control land and provide evidence that they will be in control of the land for the duration of the cost-share agreement; Eligibility is based on the amount of income derived from different sources. Applicants, including land trusts, cannot receive benefit from USDA conservation programs if their annual adjusted gross income for non-farm income exceeds $1,000,000 ($2,000,000 for a married couple) unless at least two-thirds of their total adjusted gross income is derived from farming, ranching, and forestry operations.

Wildflower field at Sunnyside

Wildlife friendly field at a farm in
Rappahannock.

Land Eligibility:

Private agricultural land; non-industrial private forest land; tribal land; cropland; grassland; rangeland; pasture and other land suitable for fish and wildlife habitat; cropped woodland; marshes.

Land that is privately owned or which is leased for 5-15 years and which is not currently covered by CREP or WRP can be eligible for enrollment. Land must meet minimum size requirements of 300 linear feet of riparian habitat or 2 acres of other habitat. There is no size limit for creating habitat for rare species.

Land eligible for WHIP includes: Private agricultural land including cropland, grassland, rangeland, pasture, and other land determined by NRCS to be suitable for fish and wildlife habitat development; Non-industrial private forest land including rural land that has existing tree cover or is suitable for growing trees; and Tribal land. Land must be suitable for wildlife habitat and have no negative impacts from off-site activities which would cause unsuitable conditions for wildlife. Mitigation activities are not eligible. Participants in this program work with NRCS to prepare a wildlife habitat development plan which describes the landowner's goals for improving wildlife habitat and outlines the steps necessary to attain these goals.

Cost-Share Information:

NRCS provides the landowner with technical assistance as well as 75% of the cost of installing the wildlife habitat measures (up to 100 percent of improving known rare species) depending on the duration of the contract. Total WHIP payments to a person or legal entity cannot exceed $50,000 per year regardless of the number of contracts that person or entity holds.

Participants cannot use more than one USDA program for the same conservation practices. However, WHIP can be combined with other USDA programs that cover conservation practices other than those proposed in the WHIP contract. If a participant receives financial assistance from other federal sources for the proposed activities, WHIP payments are reduced accordingly so that not to exceed the federal cost-share limit of 75%, with one exception: Species or habitats deemed to be of special significance may receive other federal dollars to provide a greater cost-share incentive, sometimes up to 100%

Signup Information

Applications may be filed at any time.

Competitiveness:

WHIP priorities are determined at both the national and the state level. NRCS is authorized to prioritize projects that address state, regional, and national conservation plans such as the State Wildlife Action Plans, North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. State ranking: NRCS state priorities are guided by the national priorities. In some cases, the NRCS state conservationists can establish priority landscapes or habitats where WHIP dollars are focused to maximize benefits.

Applications may be evaluated on some or all of the following criteria:

  1. Contribution to resolving a national, regional or state habitat concern,
  2. Inclusion in an established wildlife priority area,
  3. Long-term benefits obtained from the project,
  4. How self-sustaining the proposed practices are,
  5. Availability of matching funds or willingness to accept a reduced payment,
  6. Cost of restoration,
  7. Willingness of the applicant to complete habitat restoration activities within the first two years of the contract.

Projects that address at-risk species or habitats identified by the state WHIP committee are likely to qualify for long-term agreements of 15 years or more and more generous cost-share. They are also likely to rank higher in the application evaluation process. These projects serve the dual purpose of targeting wildlife and habitat needs and giving farmers a greater financial incentive to participate.

Additional Resources

Visit the Virginia NRCS website

Farmers and landowners, like the ones profiled in this Fall Piedmont View Article, have already benefited from creating and promoting wildlife habitats on their land.