Lake St. Clair Coastal Habitat
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Photo: Lynn Betts, NRCS

Agricultural lands include cultivated lands (orchards, nurseries, crops) as well as animal farming operations. Cultivated lands make up the single largest category of land cover within the project area, occupying nearly 50 percent of the total area . Cultivated lands impact habitat by altering the natural vegetative cover. Habitats are destroyed as forests, wetlands and other natural vegetation are cleared, drained and/or diked for agriculture.

Agricultural lands are an important source of soil erosion and sedimentation, chemical runoff (herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides) and nutrient runoff (nitrogen and phosphorous). Impacts to habitats near cultivated land can range widely depending on the specific crop and farming practices. Sustainable farming practices such as no or low-till farming allow all or some crop residue to remain on the land, reducing soil erosion and sedimentation. Crop rotation and contour farming improve soil quality and crop productivity. Organic farming and integrated pest management eliminate or reduce use of agricultural chemicals, thus their runoff into nearby streams, rivers and lakes. A number of Canadian and U.S. federal, state and provincial programs have been developed to encourage farmers to adopt practices that provide some conservation and/or habitat value.

Broader implementation of sustainable agricultural practices and whole farm planning can help offset the impacts of producing food and fiber and improve the relationship between habitat and agriculture. Additional incentives and rewards are needed for farmers. Governments at all levels can augment education and outreach to the farming community and vice-versa so that policy is responsive to and reflects actual field experience.

For more information, see: Habitat Assessment, Section V (PDF)