Habitat & Conservation  |  06/15/2023

Habitat . . . with a Little Help From Our Friends


Strong Partnerships have allowed the Farm Bill Biologist program to thrive for two decades

The conservation landscape revolves around partnerships, and nowhere is that more apparent than our Farm Bill Biologist (FBB) Program. 

For 20 years, the program has worked side-by-side with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), as well as state wildlife agencies across the country, to ensure quality habitat exists for not only upland birds, but all wildlife. 

As we celebrate two decades of the FBB program, we want to extend a sincere thank you to our partners in NRCS and agency offices from coast-to-coast. Together we’ve improved over 15 million acres of habitat, the impact of which will be felt by wildlife, hunters and landowners for decades to come. 

Natural Resources Conservation Service

The FBB program began in 2003 with the hiring of four biologists in eastern South Dakota.  That first group of biologists included Ron Leathers, who is now our organization’s first-ever chief conservation officer.  Shortly after the program’s inception, it was expanded into Nebraska, where Mike Klosterman became one of the first FBB’s in the state. Klosterman left PF for a time to help run a family farm near his hometown of Scottsbluff, Nebr., but returned in 2015. He’s seen the results of strong partnerships from both inside and outside the program. 

“When I came back to PF, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it had expanded throughout Nebraska,” he said. “Seeing that expansion and the availability of those biologists in the NRCS offices was tremendous.” 

Since Klosterman’s return to the program, Nebraska has nearly doubled the number of full-time FBB’s in the state, including two positions in the traditionally under-served Nebraska panhandle. This growth only strengthened an already solid relationship, and Klosterman said the true value of the partnership lies in a broadened perspective. 

“The highest benefit is having us in their system, so we understand not only what we’re trying to accomplish, but also what NRCS has to accomplish,” he said. “Working within their system to meet our objective right alongside NRCS’s objectives has just been phenomenal. It fits hand to glove — we can help them fill their needs and we can also help put conservation on the landscape for the benefit of upland birds.” 

State Agencies

State agencies across the country work with our biologists at every turn to ensure quality habitat continues to thrive. This work is exceptionally important in the bobwhite quail range, where populations have declined dramatically in the last half century. Jason Jensen has worked for the Missouri Department of Conservation for over 30 years and has worked with Quail Forever biologists to help restore some of that population since the program expanded to Missouri. 

“Our partnership with Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever is like no other,” he said. “Within my branch alone, we’ve probably got somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 cooperative agreements with different partners, all of whom do incredible work. But our agreement with PF & QF is special, just because of what I feel we get from it.” 

The partnership in Missouri helps bolster the department's ability to cover a large swath of projects across the state. Right now, their major focus is a native forage initiative, a cost-share program that also involves the NRCS. Jensen said the additional lift Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are able to provide that initiative is a great example of the partnership’s value. 

“We’ve got 15 million acres of fescue in the state that’re providing very minimal or no habitat for upland wildlife,” he said. “The partnership with PF & QF helps our ability to work with landowners to potentially convert a portion of that — which is something we’ll see huge wildlife benefits from.” 

To date the native forage initiative in Missouri has enrolled 300 landowners, improved 11,000 acres and committed $5 million to the project. 

“That’s a pretty big deal,” Jensen said. “And Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are right there with us, helping promote that program and implement it on the ground.” 

Jensen, like Klosterman in Nebraska, saw the FBB program in its infancy, and has watched it transform into a titan of conservation. What began with four biologists in South Dakota has grown into 268 positions in 35 states, with more on the way. The collective might of those biologists, in league with the partnerships we’ve forged over the last two decades, have made 330,000 landowner contacts, hosted more than 2,000 habitat workshops and created more than 15 million acres of habitat. 

If a program can accomplish all that in its first 20 years, we should be very excited about the next 20. 

To learn more about improving upland habitat on your property, visit our Find a Biologist Map to connect with a local Farm Bill Biologist in your area.