Partners for Fish and Wildlife
The Partners for Fish and Wildlife program (Partners) started nationally in 1987 when the United States Department of Agriculture reached out to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for help with new habitat conservation goals required by the 1985 Food Security Act (i.e., Farm Bill). Partners is a habitat restoration program based on the understanding that the majority of wildlife in the U.S. is found on private land and, therefore, successful wildlife conservation requires engaging private landowners. Partners works with private, corporate, municipal, county, and non-profit landowners to pursue voluntary fish and wildlife habitat restoration projects. We do not work on State or federally owned land but we do work with State and federal agencies in a variety of ways, including planning and partnering efforts to support habitat restoration. For more information download our factsheet here.
What is a Partners project?
A Partners project is something that belongs to the landowner.Partners can help with the design and implementation of a project but the project is not a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) project. We are only supporting a landowner with their own efforts to restore habitat. The most important part of a successful habitat restoration project is an interested and dedicated landowner. Partners can help landowners improve habitat, which can involve creating habitat that has not been present at a site, restoring a habitat that was degraded or removed, or by enhancing habitat. We typically provide technical assistance, materials, supplies, equipment, and field assistance for designing and implementing habitat restoration. Occasionally, we can also provide funding directly to a partner for restoration work or, more often, we can coordinate with third parties that can assist with funding. Partners in New Jersey works on projects of all sizes and costs, but we are generally looking for projects where the Service can focus on a few central restoration measures that will have significant enough benefit to fish and wildlife populations to justify the costs. The Service generally looks for projects where there are restoration measures that the landowner could not easily pursue alone and generally do not work on projects that only involve types of habitat enhancements that would be considered backyard habitat. Partners cannot help landowners with projects that focus on things other than direct benefits to fish and wildlife habitat such as aesthetics and trail creation.
How to work with Partners?
Partners does not have an application process and we accept projects throughout the year. A Partners project usually starts when Partners staff are contacted by a landowner who either has a restoration project in mind or is looking for ideas. If there is some potential for a project with significant value to fish and wildlife, Partners will take a look at a property with the landowner and develop a conceptual plan that will be put into a Partners Landowner Agreement, standardized documents the Service uses for all projects in New Jersey. The essential parts of the agreements are our signature showing that we agree to help a landowner with a project and the landowner's signature showing their commitment. The Service asks that landowners leave in place restoration measures Partners assists with for at least 10 years to ensure the benefits of a project can be realized and the investment made by the Service justified. Once restoration measures are in place, the project is the responsibility of the landowner and there are no additional requirements placed on a property for public access or other restrictions.
How does Partners prioritize potential projects?
Partners does not have a ranking system for selecting which proposed Partners projects we work on. Instead, Partners carefully evaluates potential projects for what species may benefit, the geographic area, what other partners are involved, whether there are environmental education benefits, the sustainability of a project, and the landowner's degree of interest and commitment.
These following groups of species face habitat degradation that Partners projects can help counteract and are the highest priority for Partners in New Jersey.
1. "Federally listed" (endangered or threatened) and candidate species are species listed under the Endangered Species Act, such as: bog turtle, swamp pink, dwarf wedgemussel, Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, and red knot.
2. Migratory fish are those species that move between salt and freshwater during their life cycle: such as American shad, alewife, blueback herring, and the American eel.
3. Migratory birds are those species that have annual migrations: Including American black duck, red knot, grasshopper sparrow, savannah sparrow, American woodcock, and cerulean warbler.
There are other species groups that are secondarily considered for projecting including:
1. State-listed species listed by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife as endangered or threatened, such as the eastern tiger salamander, wood turtle, and the northern pine snake.
2. Native pollinating insects such as the monarch butterfly and native bees.
Although Partners can and does help with projects throughout the State, we try to concentrate our work in certain areas. Partners has identified four Focus Areas outlined by the boundaries of HUC 8 watersheds where we think our involvement can most benefit federal trust resources and where a concentration of natural resources have been identified. The four Focus Areas are Atlantic Coastal Bays, Delaware Estuary, Great Egg Harbor River / Cape May, and Highlands / Middle Delaware River. Other than within our Focus Areas, Partners targets projects located upstream and bordering the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Service manages these lands and all wildlife in them are considered federal trust resources.
Environmental education priority
The Service recognizes that if we do not help young people get exposed to the wonders of nature, we risk creating a generation of adults that cannot appreciate the value of fish and wildlife. Fortunately, restoration projects often provide opportunities to connect youth with nature. For example, school-aged volunteers can help plant native trees on municipal projects or Partners can assist with projects on school grounds. Partners only assists with school projects where there is significant initiative and support from teaching staff and administration.
What kinds of restoration can Partner's help with?
Wetland restorations are probably the most common type of Partners project in New Jersey and benefit numerous wildlife species such as bog turtle, black duck, and swamp sparrow. Wetlands restored through Partners projects are generally shallow water wetlands. Partners does not help with excavating farm ponds. Partners can help acquire any permits that may be needed for wetland projects and then we can help with construction and provide plant material. Note that if a project creates new wetlands, those wetlands may become "jurisdictional wetlands" under the New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Act and the federal Clean Water Act.
Land candidates for wetland restoration
Whether an area has potential for wetland restoration depends a lot on the surrounding hydrology, soils, and other factors that Partners must consider. Low producing agricultural fields with standing water or wetland signatures are excellent candidates for wetland restoration with Partners.
Restoring wetland hydrology
There are a number of ways to restore wetland hydrology such as:
1. Creating a low berm that is well placed based on subtle differences in slope or creating shallow excavations where there are clay soils or a high water table can easily create a wetland of several acres. Partners can construct these berms for a landowner with our own equipment or rented equipment.
2. Installing water control structures in berms that allow water levels to be seasonally altered to facilitate the germination of wetland flora and to support waterfowl and wading bird foraging.
3. Removing drain tiling, which is an easy way to restore wetland hydrology in a fallow field.
4. Drainage ditches installed on marginal crop land can be plugged as part of a project with Partners to restore wetland hydrology.
Species Benefiting from Wetland Restoration
1. The federally listed (threatened) bog turtle and its unique habitat are a priority for the Partners program in New Jersey. Natural succession tends to turn bog turtle habitat into forested wetland unsuitable for successful nesting of this species; therefore, Partners will assist landowners with thinning the woody growth. The habitat is also susceptible to other problems Partners can help with, such as erosion or invasive plant species.
2. Vernal pools created through Partners projects provide breeding habitat for amphibians while providing opportunities for environmental education.
Migrations of American shad, blueback herring, alewife, and American eel were a major part of the natural history of New Jersey. However, many watersheds are now inaccessible for these species due to dams and other barriers. Fish passage projects can permanently restore habitat by improving upstream access for these species. Ideally, restoration of fish passage involves the complete removal of a barrier to open up miles of spawning and rearing habitat for fish while also restoring the natural flow and sediment transport of a river to benefit the entire aquatic community. Sometimes complete dam removal is impossible and other techniques can be used to allow fish migration such as installing a fish ladder. Projects involving fish passage often require numerous partners to overcome technical and cost challenges. Partners can provide technical and permitting assistance as well as help identify funding sources for these projects.
Many streams in New Jersey have been converted from their natural meanders into straight channels that offer limited habitat and disrupt the natural equilibrium between sediment deposited and transported. Partners can help with instream restoration work that modifies stream sinuosity, streambed, and the structure of riffles, runs, and pools that characterize healthy streams. Instream restoration opportunities in New Jersey can be limited by high costs and permitting challenges. Partners can provide technical and permitting assistance as well as help in identifying funding sources.
Grasslands vary from pasture consisting of relatively short stands of nonnative cool-season grass to tall stands of native warm-season grass. Many bird species prefer native warm-season grasses, which are also important host plants for butterfly larvae. When Partners helps a landowner with grassland restoration, we look for signs that a project might produce some bird habitat, including large contiguous fields, neighboring properties in agriculture or other low growing vegetation (e.g. golf courses, corporate campuses, or schools), and low invasive weed populations. The size of the project is important because grassland dependent birds require large open areas. Some species, such as the State listed (threatened) savannah sparrow, may nest in fields that are 20 acres but other species, such as the State listed (endangered) Henslow’s sparrow, require three or four times that acreage. The Service can provide equipment, technical assistance, field assistance, and seed for these projects.Additionally, the Service can provide nest boxes to our existing partners for species that use grasslands or other species relying on nest cavities such as American kestrel, wood duck, screech owl, and many others.
Evidence is accumulating that pollinating insects are declining in abundance and diversity. Although there are no pollinating insects in New Jersey that are federal trust species, the Service does recognize the crucial role these animals play. Because approximately 75% of flowering plants rely on these animals for pollination, they are ultimately responsible for much of the plant and wildlife diversity of New Jersey. Pollinators maintain the diversity of plants that other wildlife in-turn depend on and they pollinate many of New Jersey’s crops. Pollinators can benefit greatly from Partners restoration projects. By adding wildflower species into grasslands, planting native flowering shrubs along streams and fallow fields, and other measures habitat can be made to support these diverse pollinators, including the approximately 300 different species of bees native to the State. Wildflower species have different requirements for hydrology, something to be considered when selecting different species for a Partners project. Looking up the wetland indicator status of a plant can help determine its preferred growing conditions. Partners can provide equipment, technical assistance, field assistance, plants, and seed for these projects. For information on plants for your pollinator habitat see this great regional guide by Elizabeth L. Ley published through the NAPPC and the Pollinator Partnership. For more information on monarchs check out this factsheet.
Sustainable forestry and reforestation can be part of restoration. A forest’s habitat value to different kinds of wildlife depends on its size, tree density, extent of canopy and understory, amount of edge, tree diversity, and other factors that can be managed. For example, reforesting a small opening in the middle of a forested area can effectively create a large contiguous tract of forest suitable for attracting forest interior birds such as cerulean warbler and wood thrush, both New Jersey species of special concern. Partners can provide shrubs and trees for these projects.
Young forest, also known as scrub-shrub, is a type of early successional habitat characterized by young trees and shrubs growing densely together and mixed with herbaceous species. Through succession, young forest eventually converts to secondary forest. Creating young forest often involves either targeted clearing and natural shrub regeneration or planting shrubs in fallow fields and riparian areas. Many bird species in New Jersey rely on this unique and ephemeral habitat, including prairie warbler, yellow breasted chat, golden winged warbler, and chestnut-sided warbler. Partners can provide shrubs for these projects.
Living shoreline projects are starting to gain attention in New Jersey. These projects restore, stabilize, and protect shoreline through relatively natural strategies rather than bulk heading and other measures that degrade shoreline habitat. Partners can help with these projects by providing materials and technical, field, and permitting assistance. Partners may also be able to support coastal projects that restore coastal habitats such as horseshoe crab nesting beaches, through technical assistance, permitting assistance, or other help.
Partners can often assist landowners with planting and seeding native vegetation along streams, rivers, and lakes. Planting these riparian areas will reduce future potential for erosion, improve water quality, and create important habitat for birds, such as Louisiana waterthrush or alder flycatcher, that specifically look to these areas for nesting and foraging. Buffers can be important habitat for gamebirds and songbirds, and a variety of other wildlife, including pollinators. Buffers between streams and fields can also filter and remove nutrients and other pollutants. Partners can provide shrubs for these projects, seed, equipment, and technical advice.
Many properties in New Jersey have significant populations of invasive plant species such as Japanese stiltgrass, garlic mustard, porcelain berry, Japanese knotweed, common reed, and many others. The Service recognizes that these species greatly reduce habitat diversity and value in New Jersey. However, Partners generally does not work on invasive species management as the central component of a project. An example of when Partners would manage invasive species is when they are adversely affecting the habitat of a federally listed species, such as bog turtle. Another example is when we help with the management of a newly introduced species where a targeted effort may prevent the species from getting established in New Jersey (e.g., kudzu).
Partners generally does not attempt to manage invasive species as the primary component of restoration projects for several reasons.
Our past experience trying to control these species suggests that often the costs are not worth the short-term benefits gained without extensive follow up.
Although Partners is focused on working with landowners to do on-the-ground restoration, we also get involved in many other activities such as taking part in habitat initiatives, providing technical and field support to conservation groups, and providing technical assistance to our National Wildlife Refuges, Endangered Species program, and others within the Service on restoration.
The recently completed dam removal of Finesville Dam was a collaboration of the USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife program and a variety of federal and State agencies and committed conservation organizations.
Partnerships and Habitat Restoration Fact Sheets