Conserving Natural Resources for our Future

St. Johns Soil & Water Conservation District

Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP)

Offers Cost-Sharing and Technical Assistance to Improve Wildlife Habitat


The Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) is designed to help landowners and those who are in control of acreage develop and preserve important wildlife habitat for future generations. The program offers technical assistance and cost-sharing opportunities for developing a wildlife habitat devlopment plan and for managing the land in accordance with that plan. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with state and local partners to establish wildlife habitat priorities in each state. NRCS will provide cost-share payments up to 75 percent of the cost of installing wildlife habitat development practices on the land. Generally, the total cost-share amount cannot exceed $10,000 per agreement. Agreements are for a five- to 10-year period.

Project Examples

Each state has established several wildlife priorities, including one or more upland and riparian habitats. Nationally, acres have been distributed among four major habitat types:

  • Upland Wildlife Habitat - Several types of early successional grasslands, such as tall grass prairies, have declined more than 98 percent according to a 1995 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Report. One of the primary focuses of WHIP nationally is restoration of some of these now scarce areas. Wildlife dependent on native grasslands includes neotropical migratory birds, waterfowl, amphibians, reptiles and many mammals. Other upland priorities include the establishment of windbreaks and edge around croplands, forests including pine barrens and long leaf pine, wildlife corridors, and shrub scrub steppe habitat. Practices installed on upland habitat include: various types of seeding and plantings, fencing, livestock management, prescribed burning, shrub thickets with shelterbelts.
  • Wetland Wildlife Habitat - WHIP wetland acres include acreage that is not eligible for the NRCS Wetland Reserve Program cost-share agreements such as winter flooding of crop fields for waterfowl. Other wetland types that will be enhanced include tidal flushing areas, salt marshes, wetland hardwood hammocks, mangrove forests, and wild rice beds. Created wetlands include freshwater marshes and vernal pools in abandoned gravel mines. Practices to enhance or create wetland wildlife habitat include: installation of culverts or water control structures, invasive plant control, fencing, creation of greentree reservoirs, moist soil unit management, and creation of shallow water areas.
  • Riparian and Instream Aquatic Wildlife Habitat - This category includes riparian areas along streams, rivers, lakes, sloughs and coastal areas, as well as the streams, lakes, and rivers themselves. Practices to improve aquatic and riparian wildlife habitat include: tree plantings, fencing with livestock management and off-stream watering, in-stream structures, seeding, streambank protection and stabilization, stream deflectors, creation of small pools, installation of buffers, removal of dams, fencing, creation of fish passages past structures, alternative watering facilities, and establishment of instream structures such as logs or rocks.
  • Threatened and Endangered Species - Threatened and endangered species targeted through WHIP include, but are not limited to the following: American burying beetle, Neosho madtom, Topeka shiner, gray bat, kit fox, bog turtle, gopher tortoise, dusky-gopher frog, Eastern indigo snake, Southern hognose snake, black pine snake, Louisiana black bear, red-cockaded woodpecker, Mississippi sandhill crane, Florida panther, wood stork, snail kite, Florida sandhill crane, caracara, grasshopper sparrow, Snake River chinook salmon, Umpua River cutthroat trout, coho salmon, steelhead, bulltrout, Lahontan cutthroat trout, Yuma clapper rails, Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican voles, and lesser long-nosed bats.
Legislative Authority

The Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (1996 Farm Bill).

Application and Financial Information

WHIP applications will be accepted at local USDA Service Centers or conservation district offices. They may also be accepted by cooperating conservation partners approved or designated by NRCS. Participants work with NRCS to prepare a wildlife habitat development plan in consultation with the local conservation district. The agreement describes the landowner's goals for improving wildlife habitat, includes a list of practices and schedule for installing them, and details the steps necessary to maintain the habitat for the life of the agreement. NRCS and the participant enter into a cost-share agreement for wildlife habitat development. This agreement generally lasts five to 10 years from the date the contract is signed.

Under the agreement:

  • The landowner agrees to maintain the cost-shared practices and allow NRCS or its agent access to monitor its effectiveness.
  • NRCS agrees to provide technical assistance and pay up to 75 percent of the cost of installing the wildlife habitat practices. Additional financial or technical assistance may be available through cooperating partners.

Applications will be ranked according to a state-developed plan, and those that provide the greatest wildlife benefits will be funded. The goal is to provide the best habitat possible for the species of fish and wildlife which the landowner or land steward is trying to protect. Cost-share payments may be used to establish, maintain, or replace practices. The budget for WHIP is authorized at a total of $50 million from 1997-2002. Funds are allocated to states based on wildlife conservation priorities which will vary by state, and may include: special pilot programs for wildlife habitat development, targeted species and their habitats, specific practices, and cooperate agreements with other federal, state, or local agencies, conservation districts, or private conservation groups.


To participate in WHIP, applicants must own or have control of the land under consideration. Applications may be accepted from individuals, groups, or businesses. Land is not eligible for WHIP if it is currently:

  1. Federal Land (though exceptions can apply)
  2. Land currently enrolled in Waterbank, Emergency Watershed Program floodplain easements, Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, or other similar programs.
  3. Land where the expected impact from off-site conditions make the success of habitat improvement unlikely.

WHIP funds cannot be used for mitigation of any kind. Such land can be included in a WHIP cost-share agreement, however cost-share funds cannot be expended on those acres.

Uses and Restrictions

Applicants develop a wildlife habitat development plan for the land with assistance from the local conservation district and the USDA. Participants are encouraged to select native plants and native plant communities because these are well adapted to the area, less invasive, and likely to provide quality habitat without costly maintenance expenses. WHIP funds are to be directed to support state wildlife habitat priorities which may include: wildlife habitat areas; targeted species and their habitats; specific practices; and cooperative agreements with other federal, state, or local agencies, conservation districts, or private conservation groups. State priorities are developed in consultation with the State Technical Committee.