Cover photo for Working Lands for Wildlife

Working Lands for Wildlife

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Through Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), USDA uses a win-win approach to systematically target conservation efforts to improve agricultural and forest productivity which enhance wildlife habitat on working landscapes. Target species are used as barometers for success because their habitat needs are representative of healthy, functioning ecosystems where conservation efforts benefit a much broader suite of species.

Through the Farm Bill, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to participants who voluntarily make improvements to their working lands while the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) provides participants with regulatory predictability for the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This innovative approach empowers landowners with a means to make on-the-ground improvements and provides peace of mind that no matter the legal status of a species, they can keep their working lands working.

This model has proven extremely popular with private landowners across the United States. To date, WLFW has helped producers conserve more than 7.1 million acres of wildlife habitat and has helped many species such as the greater sage-grouse in the West and the New England cottontail in the Northeast. For both of these species — in large part because of voluntary conservation efforts on private lands — the FWS determined listing under ESA was not warranted. Beginning in 2017, NRCS expanded this model and now includes 19 landscapes covering 48 States.

Conservation Model

The conservation model builds on lessons learned in conservation over the years and includes:

  • Trust and Credibility: NRCS takes a community, grassroots approach to conservation that's based on the principles of neighborliness.

  • Shared Vision: NRCS-recommended conservation practices benefit both wildlife and agriculture. Meet some of the Habitat Heroes who have made wildlife-friendly improvements to working lands across the Country.

  • Strategic Approach: NRCS invests resources efficiently, where the biological returns are the highest. See wildlife conservation strategies to learn more about where NRCS is targeting its efforts.

  • Accountability: NRCS and conservation partners use science to measure effectiveness of conservation and to quantify outcomes. See Science to Solutions reports for more information on the scientific backbone of WLFW and how species are responding to conservation.

  • Leverage: NRCS brings together partners to multiply investments to achieve more conservation.

Regulatory Predictability: Through WLFW, NRCS partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide regulatory predictability under the Endangered Species Act. Similar to an insurance policy, predictability provides landowners with peace of mind that no matter the legal status of a species, they can keep their working lands working with an NRCS conservation plan in place.

​WLFW is currently active in 48 states, encompassing 19 different landscapes. Eight national and 11 state-identified species are used to focus individual projects that meet both the needs of the species as well as those of the agricultural operations. Individual species are used as barometers for healthy, functioning landscapes where conservation efforts also benefit a multitude of additional species as well.

Conservation efforts on private lands are making a difference across the country, from the sagebrush country of the West to the forests of Appalachia and New England. For these stories and many more, download the agency's WLFW magazine, A Partnership for Conserving Landscapes, Communities & Wildlife.

Application Instructions

To apply for one of the sub-programs under WLFW, reach out to your local NRCS service center.


  • Program Successes:

    • The Dance of the Sage Grouse: Bridging Culture and Conservation digital brochure: This new two-sided poster-sized brochure highlights Native Americans' conservation efforts with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service on one side, and on the other side features artwork by Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California member and artist Louinda Garity, who reminds us that despite our different backgrounds and cultures, we are on common ground when it comes to valuing sage grouse and their habitat in the sagebrush sea. (Download Poster) (PDF; 27.5 MB) View Multimedia story offsite link image .

    • **WLFW Conservation Strategy for Golden-winged Warbler: ** This five-year game plan will guide efforts to enable forest landowners to manage for 15,000 acres of breeding habitat by the end of fiscal 2021. Download the strategy.

    • 'Healthy Sagebrush Communities' digital poster: This new poster highlights the wildlife of the unique but imperiled sagebrush landscape as well as the steps ranchers are taking to restore and protect it. Download the poster. View the multimedia story. offsite link image

    • #HabitatHero: John Hoover multimedia story: Meet John, a Pennsylvania forest landowner who is managing his forests for two at-risk birds, the golden-winged warbler and cerulean warbler. offsite link image View the multimedia story. offsite link image

    • #HabitatHero: Greg Peterson multimedia story: Meet Greg, a Colorado rancher who is managing native rangelands to benefit livestock and sage grouse. View the multimedia story.

Updated March 22, 2024

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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