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News Release

USDA, partners usher in a new era in conservation

New conservation initiative goes beyond traditional government efforts to allow businesses, other partners to invest in regional conservation projects

LITTLE ROCK, AR May 29, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the launch of what he calls “a new era in American conservation efforts” with an historic focus on public-private partnership.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” Vilsack said. “We’re giving private companies, local communities and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations.”

The new conservation program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and will benefit areas all across the nation.  RCPP streamlines conservation efforts by combining four programs (the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion) into one.  

The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region.  Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.

“Locally led conservation and decision making is empowered through this program – bringing together conservation partners and groups, communities, universities, agricultural associations and others – to design conservation projects that are tailored to our needs here in Arkansas,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Mike Sullivan.

With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program will leverage $2.4 billion for conservation.  Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality, water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

“This is an example of government at its best — streamlining multiple programs into one more effective effort, providing flexible tools, and connecting local citizens and organizations with resources that best address their priorities, protect and improve their quality of life, and propel economic growth,” Vilsack said.

The RCPP has three funding pools:

·       35 percent of total program funding directed to critical conservation areas, chosen by the agriculture secretary;

·       40 percent directed to regional or multi-state projects through a national competitive process;

·       25 percent directed to state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders.

Vilsack named eight critical conservation areas - Great Lakes Region, Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands, and the Colorado River Basin –that are slated to receive 35 percent of the program’s overall funding.  Arkansas is one of 13 states included in the Mississippi River Basin designation.

The Mississippi River is North America’s largest river, flowing over 2,300 miles to the Gulf of Mexico; providing drinking water, food, industry and recreation for millions of people; and home to over 325 bird species.  With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships in the 13-state area to continue to reduce nutrient and sediment loading to water bodies and improve efficiency in using water supplies.  This designation builds on momentum already established by NRCS’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.  With more than 600 partners engaged throughout the area, farmers and ranchers have treated over 800,000 acres with systems of practices intended to avoid, control and trap nutrient and sediment run-off, and improve irrigation efficiency.

For the state-level funding pool proposals in Arkansas, priorities include:  Energy, Plant Health, Soil Health, Water Quality, Water Quantity, and Wildlife.  For more state-specific information on RCPP, visit NRCS Arkansas's webpage.

“This program is a prime example of how government can serve as a catalyst for public and private investment in rural America,” Sullivan said.

For more information on applying, visit the announcement for program funding. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are due Sept. 26.

To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.  For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.