NNY Audubon launches farm grant program

(Provided photo — Hyla Howe)

Local farmers can now apply for a grant to make their land more bird-friendly.

Northern New York Audubon’s new Small Farm Grant program will provide grants of up to $1,500 to help farmers in the northern Adirondacks — including Essex, Franklin, Clinton and St. Lawrence counties — as well as in the St. Lawrence and Champlain valleys, to improve management practices on their lands and make a better home for birds as they face widespread habitat destruction.

The Small Farm’s pilot season comes two years after Hyla Howe, an NNYA board member and University of Vermont graduate student, first came up with the idea for the program. She calls the Small Farm Grant program her “passion project.”

While NNYA has a strong focus on conserving interior forest birds, according to Howe, she said that the grant program will expand NNYA’s focus to include land development’s effects on shrubland and grassland bird habitats — specifically in agriculture.

“This farm grant is essentially an opportunity for us to branch out,” Howe said, “to kind of focus on a different kind of habitat and also a different group of people that may or may not be thinking about conservation on their lands the way that we would think of conservation in forested habitats that are protected.”

Below, bluebird boxes are seen at Heaven Hills in Lake Placid. (Provided photo — Hyla Howe)

Intensifying farm development and farmland abandonment across North America have destroyed grasslands and shrublands that are essential to the birds who nest there, according to Howe. With an estimated three billion birds disappearing in the U.S. and Canada over the last 50 years, according to a release from NNYA, smaller farmscapes are becoming especially important in providing a safe haven for bird habitats.

The Small Farm grants will help local farmers offset the cost of labor and supplies to complete bird-friendly projects, including habitat improvement and restoration measures like planting native species, replanting wetland and riparian areas, creating infrastructure — like building birdhouses — to encourage nesting and reduce predation, or shifting farming practices to accommodate nesting birds.

People can apply for a Small Farm grant now through Jan. 31, 2023. Grant awardees will be notified and funds will be distributed in March 2023, according to NNYA’s release. NNYA is holding two virtual information sessions about the program for farmers — one on Thursday at 6 p.m. and another on Dec. 14 at 4 p.m. Howe said that people interested in attending one of the online information sessions or applying for a grant can email her at farmgrant@nnya.org.

The grants will go to projects related to grasslands and hayfields, shrublands, riparian areas and bird habitats around and within crops. But Howe said that NNYA is keeping the application requirements vague — the local Audubon chapter wants to encourage farmers to think of projects specific to their land and operations. Projects have to be completed in NNYA’s territory within two years of receiving funding.

Howe said NNYA wants to fund as many grants for farmers as they can — she said there’s enough funding for several grants already. She didn’t have the total funding available for the program on Monday because NNYA is still fielding donations for the Small Farms Grant program pool. Donations to the grant program can be made at tinyurl.com/2ds3t859.


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