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DUC expands Alta. wildlife plan

A program to help Alberta ranchers and farmers develop wildlife habitat management plans for their property will be expanded, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) said Thursday.

The program, which ran as a pilot last year under the name “On-Farm Wildlife and Biodiversity Planning Service,” will be relaunched under the name “Natural Advantage” and will now employ three full-time biologists, the wetland conservation agency said.

DUC provincial manager Dave Kay said the 2007 pilot quickly filled up, with 62 farms and ranches covering over 90,000 acres.

Other than the new hires, the format will be similar to the one used in the pilot project, said DUC program director Kim Schmitt. “Natural Advantage was set up to be a simple process for producers without requiring a major time commitment.”

Under Natural Advantage, farmers and DUC, as the program’s manager, would sign a letter of understanding outlining how the work is carried out, after which program biologists analyze the habitat on the property and follow up with the farmer or rancher. The habitat is then analyzed and classified, this time using aerial photography and GIS mapping.

Biologists then spend up to half a day meeting with the landowner to discuss their findings, DUC said, and also take time to complete field verification and a “rapid assessment” of the condition of the areas identified.

The final product for the farmer or rancher is a written report based on the knowledge gathered, including resource materials and contact information to help carry out the report’s recommendations.

DUC is accepting applications from producers wanting to take part in the 2008 program. Assessments are expected to be completed over the summer and early fall, Schmitt said, with most final reports to be delivered after the field season ends. Inquiries may go to DUC wildlife biologist Julie Pierce at 1-866-479-3825.

“Support from the Alberta Environmental Farm Plan program played a big role in the success of the pilot project and building on agricultural industry partnerships such as the AEFP will be important as the Natural Advantage service moves forward,” Kay said.

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