USDA to Invest $35M in Prairie Pothole Conservation Efforts
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service plans to commit up to $35 million during the next three years to help landowners conserve grasslands and wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region, which includes Minnesota.
A combination of program offerings and partnerships will provide farmers, ranchers and partners with access to a mix of technical and financial assistance opportunities to restore wetlands and grasslands and help mitigate a recent regional trend of conversion of these lands to crops.
“This region, which includes the western and southwestern parts of Minnesota, provides critical breeding and nesting habitat for more than 60 percent of the nation’s migratory waterfowl,” Minnesota State Conservationist Don Baloun said of this important region.
The region provides vital water storage to reduce regional flooding and improve water quality, and it has tremendous potential to store carbon in soils and biomass, which reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the leading greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.
“Our goal is to help landowners proactively manage their working lands in a way that’s compatible with the soil, water, and habitat resources of the region,” Baloun said. “So we are really talking about keeping working lands working.”
The funding comes in a couple of pieces, including:
Environmental Quality Incentives Program: The agency’s largest conservation program will help producers with expiring Conservation Reserve Program contracts keep their lands as working grasslands or haylands through implementation of prescribed grazing and other conservation practices.
Ducks Unlimited-NRCS partnership for carbon credits: NRCS is working with North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana to create a carbon credit marketing system for private landowners who agreed to avoid tilling grasslands. This work started in 2011 in North Dakota as part of a Conservation Innovation Grant, but now it’s being expanded to the three states. Through this system, interested landowners can keep their land in grass, continue grazing and haying, and generate verified carbon credits that place a conservation easement on their land. These credits can be sold or traded into existing voluntary carbon markets.
NRCS also is providing additional technical assistance to complete certified wetland determinations, needed by producers to meet conservation compliance requirements first put in place in 1985.
For more information on these opportunities, visit a local NRCS field officeor the NRCS website.
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