Habitat & Conservation  |  03/09/2023

Farm Bill Biologist Program Celebrates 20 years


Program has impacted over 14 million acres of habitat

The backbone of The Habitat Organization has always been science. 

Over the last 40 years, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have endeavored to protect, conserve and enhance as much upland bird habitat as possible, from Pennsylvania to Washington. The results speak for themself. The organization has injected over a billion dollars into more than half a million projects — benefiting 22 million acres of wildlife habitat nationwide. That doesn’t happen overnight, or without a network of thousands of volunteers, donors and partners spread across the country. It also requires a dedicated team of technical experts supporting those stakeholders, who can help design the right habitat in the right places. For the last two decades, the core of that team has been made up of Farm Bill Biologists. 

This year the Farm Bill Biologist program will celebrate its 20th anniversary. What began in 2003 with the hiring of four biologists in eastern South Dakota has grown into the largest team of private lands biologists in the country – all focused on the singular goal of helping farmers and ranchers run successful and profitable operations while meeting their conservation goals. 

There are now 268 Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Farm Bill Biologists in 35 states, addressing habitat needs from the bobwhite pine savannas of the Coastal Plains to the sage steppe of the American West. 

“Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s Farm Bill Biologists are a combination of program expert and wildlife biologist,” said Ron Leathers, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s chief conservation officer, who was one of the first four Farm Bill Biologists hired in South Dakota in 2003. “They’re able to navigate complex federal and state program rules while supporting landowners desire’s to see improved wildlife habitat and ensure sustainable populations on their property.”

Since inception, Farm Bill Biologists have made over 330,000 landowner contacts and impacted over 14 million acres of habitat. They’ve also hosted more than 2,000 workshops to promote Farm Bill and other conservation programs to farmers, ranchers and landowners.

Much of their work is obviously focused on pheasant and quail habitat, but Farm Bill Biologists also assist in delivering habitat for sage grouse, prairie chicken and golden-winged warblers through the NRCS Working Lands for Wildlife program and other wildlife-focused initiatives.

Funding sources for the program include support include support from state fish and wildlife agencies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Joint Ventures, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, as well as Local Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever chapters, watershed groups, foundations and various other state and local partners. 

“As I look back on the last 20 years, the growth of this program is astounding,” Leathers said. “When I was hired in 2003 I couldn’t have imagined the footprint Farm Bill Biologists would have two decades later. The impact these biologists have on a daily basis is profound, and I’m so proud to have begun my career with the Habitat Organization as a Farm Bill Biologist.”