Endangered Fish Benefit Landowners

An endangered fish helped Donnie Wren increase beef production at his farm. Wren raises cattle on his Boone County property in the Bonne Femme Creek watershed, one of the last bastions of the endangered Topeka shiner.

For years, Wren's cows got water from the creek and crossed it frequently from one pasture to another. Eventually, they wore down the stream banks, washing them away and cutting into his land. The crossing also was unsafe for the cows.

Wren looked at his farm and decided that, to make it more profitable, he needed to fence cattle out of the streams, cross-fence his pastures and provide an alternative watering source for his livestock. There was a hitch, however. He couldn't afford the improvements.

The presence of the endangered Topeka shiner in the stream made him eligible for help from the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The program provides aid to landowners who voluntarily improve and restore their property to a condition that's more beneficial to fish and wildlife.

Both the Conservation Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service are promoting this program to encourage land management practices that improve habitat for endangered species. Both technical assistance and cost-share help are available.

Wren used funds from the Partners program to fence nearly two miles of stream and develop alternative watering sources. The Missouri Department of Conservation provided money and equipment to help build livestock crossings for the creeks.

Developing a buffer along the stream frontage enabled Wren to enroll his fenced creek frontage into the Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Program, so he will receive a CRP rental payment for the next 10 years.

In addition, Wren's veterinary and fertilizers costs have dropped. The quality of his pasture, he says, is noticeably better and his beef production is up.

"I can see the stream banks healing," Wren said. "I got help with what I needed, and the stream benefited, too. It's a win-win situation."

The Partners program, the Conservation Department and an endangered fish also teamed up to help Mike Long, a cow-calf farmer along the Maries River in Maries County. Long's problem was streambank erosion, to which he was losing 10 to 15 feet of his best hay and grazing fields every year.

Long contacted a Conservation Department fisheries management biologist, who recognized that the only solution to the problem would involve stabilizing the stream banks with rock. That was expensive, but because the stream is home to the Niangua darter, a fish found in only a few stream basins in the state, the project was eligible for help from several sources.

Long, the USFWS and the Conservation Department each contributed a third of the cost of installing hard rock points to stabilize the stream banks on his property. As a result, Long's stream bank has stopped eroding, and the area between the rock points has filled with silt. At the same time, scour holes at the end of the dikes will improve habitat for many species of fish.

Long also enrolled into CRP and will be getting cost share funds to fence his stream frontage and to plant trees along the banks. He will also receive 15 years of rental payments.

For Long, the presence of the Niangua darter has been overwhelmingly positive.

"Without it, the funding would not have been available to help me solve my problem," he said. "I hope the fish multiply!"

Partners for Fish and Wildlife, the Conservation Reserve Program and Conservation Department cost share programs are just a few of the many options available to landowners in Missouri. Often, the programs can be combined to increase their benefits.

"The Partners for Fish and Wildlife program will help landowners voluntarily improve and restore their lands to a more natural state for fish and wildlife," said Kelly Srigley Werner, Missouri private lands coordinator for the USFWS. The Conservation Department and the USFWS are partnering to promote this program in Missouri. The Partners program can offer assistance on several levels, including technical assistance and cost-share funds, to help landowners create or improve wildlife habitat.

To learn more about cost-share and technical support programs, contact your local Conservation Department office or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 606 E. Cherry St., Room 200, Columbia, MO 65201.