Sustainable Agriculture and America’s Wildlife

Wildlife are among America’s most treasured assets, yet wildlife populations face a wide range of challenges. These include ongoing threats of habitat loss and degradation, both direct and indirect.

Some of America’s most iconic wildlife species, including bison, grizzly bears, and bald eagles, are associated with grand protected landscapes, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. However, nearly half of the nation’s land is privately owned and predominantly devoted to agricultural purposes, while also serving as home to many wildlife populations. Our farming and ranching lands support a rich variety of wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend. These working landscapes, and the people who live and work in them, are often overlooked in wildlife conservation efforts, but are deeply deserving of our respect and attention.

The National Wildlife Federation believes that society and wildlife are deeply and intimately connected. The natural systems—air, water, land—upon which we all depend are also key components of sustainable agriculture. America’s farmers and ranchers have a key role to play in protecting and restoring the nation’s wildlife. This includes not only directly supporting wildlife habitat in agricultural landscapes, but also preserving and restoring the country’s great water, air, and soil resources. We are strongly committed to the prospect that the practices that are best for wildlife are also central to supporting the nation’s farmers and ranchers and America’s continued leadership in agricultural production. The Federation’s sustainable agriculture programs seek to support leading farmers, ranchers, and conservation professionals striving to advance soil health and conservation practices across the country.

Best Management Practices

Building more sustainable and resilient agriculture in the US will require the actions of thousands of farmers, land owners, advisors, and conservation professionals working together. A wide range of practices can enhance the sustainability and productivity of crop and livestock producers and the land on which they live and work. Our programs focus in particular on sustainable cropland production practices that follow the principles of soil health:

  1. Keep the soil covered as much as possible
  2. Minimize soil disturbance
  3. Use a diverse array of crops
  4. Maintain continual living plants and roots throughout the year
  5. Integrate livestock into the landscape

Farmers can use a number of practices to achieve these principles, including reduced tillage (or no-till) systems, cover crops, diverse crop rotations, and sustainable pasture management (including rotational grazing methods). These practices reduce soil erosion, increase soil organic matter and water infiltration, and decrease nitrogen loss, all while providing water quality and air quality benefits through retaining nutrients. Many of these practices offer clear benefits to farmers, wildlife, and climate.

Our Outreach Approach

When it comes to management decisions, including choices about conservation, farmer decisions are based on factors such as values, tradition, routines, and risk. For any new practice to be adopted, it needs to match the decision-making framework of the individual farmer. Luckily, most agricultural best practices solve common problems and can help set up farmers for success in the long term. Our sustainable agriculture programs assist in making sustainable agriculture more practical and appealing to the larger farming community by improving outreach and promotion of conservation practices. To have better success, outreach to farmers needs to carefully consider the decision-making processes of farmers, especially those who are still hesitant to adopt these practices.


Testimonials

“Social science is a missing part of traditional trainings. We work with people, so we need a different skill set. Great training!”

“Excellent format with a mix of presentations and discussions. The presenters were top notch. They were patient and informative which was valuable.”

2020 Cover Crop Champions conference - Adam explains

“This training gives a different take on overall understanding how to ‘sell’ what we do. Those skills are never taught in an NRCS training.”

“The struggle is real. I learned a lot about challenges that farmers are facing and how to build a strategic approach to communication.”

“It is very rare to see a grant or program that truly rewards innovative outreach. The staff really works with you every step of the way to make the outreach more successful.”


Meet the Team

The sustainable agriculture team combines their diverse backgrounds in social science, conservation policy, agricultural decision making, and wildlife ecology to drive working lands conservation across the country. They work with farmers and natural resources professionals to conduct innovative conservation outreach, and support sustainable agriculture policy that ensure our farmers, ranchers, and the lands they steward thrive in now and in the future.   

Julie Sibbing

Julie Sibbing

Associate Vice President for Land Stewardship

Julie Sibbing is the associate vice president for land stewardship at the National Wildlife Federation in Washington, DC. On the National Wildlife Federation staff since 2000, Julie oversees the Federation’s work to improve conservation outcomes on working agricultural and forest lands, with an emphasis on water, wildlife, and carbon storage. Her team is engaged both on federal policy as well as in promoting improved outreach to landowners to increase adoption of sustainable agriculture practices. Julie holds a B.S. in ecology, ethology, and evolution and an M.S. in forest ecology, both from the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana.

Jess Espenshade

Jess Espenshade

Conservation Outreach Manager 

Jess Espenshade is the Conservation Outreach Manager at the National Wildlife Federation. She developed her love of agriculture growing up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Jess manages the Cover Crop Champion program and Grow More trainings, traveling the country to equip on-the-ground agriculture professionals with the tools to make sustainable agriculture a fit for all farms. Her background includes work with the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts and United States Department of Agriculture in Vermont. Her graduate work focused on human dimensions of natural resources, specifically how people make decisions about the environment. Her current role combines her interest in social science with her desire to promote a more sustainable future for agriculture and the environment. 

Adam Reimer

Adam Reimer

Conservation Outreach Specialist

Dr. Adam Reimer is a conservation outreach specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. He brings his experience in conservation behavior change to support the sustainable agriculture and outreach programs, evaluating behavior change impacts of these programs. Adam has a background in wildlife ecology and management, as well as in conservation policy, and has established himself as a leader in research on agricultural conservation decision-making, with over 20 peer-reviewed publications. Adam holds a PhD from Purdue University in Natural Resources and Social Science, a Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University, and held a postdoctoral fellowship with the National Agricultural and Rural Development Policy Center in 2012, where he explored emerging rural policy issues, including water management and conservation policy. 

Luke Petersen

Luke Petersen

Working Lands Specialist

Luke is the Working Lands Specialist at National Wildlife Federation. He provides outreach and message training to NWF’s Conservation Champions and natural resources professionals across the country, equipping them with the skills to reach more farmers and livestock producers, and increase the adoption of working lands conservation. Luke grew up on a family farm in Michigan, where he developed a drive to inspire stewardship of the land, wildlife and resources we all depend on. He has a M.S. degree in Ecology from University of California Davis. Previously, he has worked with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Point Blue Conservation Science and local partners to influence and implement conservation efforts on working farm and ranch lands. 

Lekha Knuffman

Senior Agriculture Program Specialist

Lekha Knuffman is a senior agriculture program specialist at the National Wildlife Federation based in Washington, DC. She works on federal policy including Farm Bill conservation and biofuels, programs such as Cover Crop Champions, and hosts the biennial America’s Grasslands Conference. She has a doctorate degree from the University of Michigan in Resource Policy and Behavior. Her dissertation research tested theories of collective action for groundwater governance using experiments to study patterns in decision-making among farmers in India’s drylands.


Agriculture Policy Work

National Wildlife Federation’s Agriculture Team also advocates for national policy that supports sustainable agriculture, including robust conservation funding in the Farm Bill.

Learn more about the Farm Bill and our policy work.


Questions?