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Alaska State Technical Committee Meeting Notes May 2011

Alaska State Technical Committee Meeting Notes

May, 2011
 
Notes

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
State Technical Committee Meeting

May 25, 2011
USDA Conference Room, Palmer, Alaska

Welcome and Introductions, State Resource Conservationist Helen Denniston
Introduction of NRCS technical staff
Introduction of meeting participants
 

Opening Remarks, State Conservationist Bob Jones
Introduction of State Tribal Liaison Kristi Harper
Comment on federal budget and NRCS programs affected /eliminated
Reminder of upcoming 2012 Farm Bill
 

Review of 2010 Farm Bill Programs, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs Al White

See handout/attachment

All obligations of EQIP funds used. Requested more funds for waiting applications.
All obligations of WHIP funds used. Requested more funds for waiting applications.

EQIP
471 active contracts of $35.9 mil. Current allocation of $7.9 mil.
Local subaccounts explained: a way to distributed funds across the state. DCs and Local Working Groups set local priorities which can be used as references for local subaccounts. Subaccounts are funded from the statewide NRCS budget.
14 percent of funds went to local subaccounts this year.
The largest amount of funds went to “beginning and socially disadvantaged” contracts for seasonal high tunnels, more than 100 seasonal high tunnels were funded in 2011.
The organic subaccount cannot mix with other funds, Organic must go back to NHQ if not used for organic contracts in state.
Maximum amount (5 percent) of EQIP was set aside for CIG.
Statewide aquatic received no applications.

Q and A on EQIP
Dan Parrent asked who is the locally led group for SE Alaska?
Ron Wolfe responded that the local group, headed by DC Samia Savell, is an effective group and meets on some regularity.
Al White explained that Local Working Groups are convened by the DC if there is no support offered by a local district.
Dan asked for an explanation of a season high tunnel, AL explained and Bill Wood provided a handout.
Danny Consenstein, State Director FSA, commented that his agency has seen tremendous excitement about the seasonal high tunnels and asked about follow up. Al and Helen explained that extension service, districts, and UAF provide follow up and we are conducting research on sizes and uses of high tunnels in Aniak and Kwethluk. Erik Johnson commented that some outreach about high tunnels was conducted in Homer last week.
Al White continued, 90 applications are waiting on hand for 2012 funding. The first cut off date for 2012 funding is June 15, 2011. A second cut off is an option of Sept 15 if not all funding is used in the first round.
Jeff Graham, State Forester, asked how the funding amounts are determined for the subaccounts.
Al responded, $150,000 was originally supplied to each sub account except the SE Alaska non industrial forestland, which was larger. Funds are redistributed as quality applications demand. Al and Bob set the subaccount funding level.
Ron Wolfe applauded NRCS Alaska funds being used now as in compared in the past when funding was not all used; requested State Technical Meeting scheduling take into consideration participants scheduling, and asked are their future opportunities for subaccounts to be reviewed later in the year?
Al replied that we can discus funds to the existing sub accounts and what subaccounts should be available. There are other initiatives not shown in this report because no funds were given, like the oil containment subaccount. (Note: The State Technical Committee must only focus on technical aspects of NRCS efforts and budgeting should be discussed in a different setting. Any State Technical Committee member wishing to discus Farm Bill budging and funding is welcome to contact State Conservationist Bob Jones or Assistant State Conservationist for Farm Bill Programs Al White.)
Ron Wolfe requested to schedule the October State Technical Meeting well in advance because of conflicting meetings and asked if NRCS keeps a list of unfunded applications.
Al answered, as applications are completed, we continue to fund applications until we are out of funding, cannot receive any more funding, or the July deadline (set by NHQ) has passed.
Ron asked about batching of applications.
Al answered, allocations come in middle of the winter, after funding is provided, we can set the date of when we fund the applications. For 2012, we will first fund all the applications that have been submitted by this July, if funding remains, we will fund applications submitted by the next application cut off date. The last day we can approve contracts is the last day of June, so any more funding provided by NHQ must come very soon.
Ron asked about the organic subaccount and the funding that must go back to NHQ.
Al answered, the national cut off was May 20, 2011 but if we can get everything put together by June 30 we could sign a contract. If we cannot get the requirements met, then the application would go to next year.
WHIP
Al led a discussion about the brown bear subaccount, habitat fragmentation subaccount, and specific contracts. NRCS Alaska has asked for additional funding for high priority applications.

RC&D
Funds were zeroed out and the program eliminated.

Easement Programs
Brief overview of the easement programs. There are very few to no applications in Alaska on easement programs.

CSP
Alaska has 3 new applications in CSP totally less than $90,000.

Q and A
Jeff asked if NRCS sees much for Bio Crop opportunities?
Al responded, we have initiatives for on farm/ranch energy audits. It is new and Alaska did not pilot the project. Helen said that Mitch Michaud, NRCS State Forester is the energy contact for NRCS Alaska. Currently, Alaska does not have enough registered, certified contractors (Technical Service Providers, TSP) for energy audits. NRCS would like to work with the contractors but we are very limited with TSPs in Alaska. Helen sees future opportunities. Bill supported the comments that this is up and coming in the future.
Jeff sees reforestation could be a concern in the future.
Al shared that TSP for forestry planning has worked in the past.
 

Minimal Effect Exemption for High Tunnels, State Ecologist Michelle Schuman

See handouts/attachments.
Because NRCS is under USDA, and USDA is under Food Security Act, we must be mindful of wetland conservation provisions. It is required that the State Technical Committee is provided an opportunity to give input to any minimal effect exemption.
The Committee previewed a background packet of information on wetlands.
The exemption is necessary because of the number of high tunnel applications.
An example was provided of a home owner/gardener who wishes to enter an NRCS contract for a high tunnel. NRCS requires mitigation for any 404 permit (permit to fill/alter wetland). If we determine that efforts have “minimal effect” on a wetland (because they are on fill, for example) then we can claim a minimal effect provision to meet regulations (federal laws). Specific criteria must be met, this is not a blanket given for all high tunnels.

Q and A
Ron asked about the definition of cropland.
Helen explained the definition of cropland specifically used for seasonal high tunnels. See seasonal high tunnel fact sheet for complete definition, explanation of eligibility requirements including tillage, production, and self certification.
Ron asked about wild berry production.
Helen explained that harvestable berries, do qualify as a crop for production under seasonal high tunnels however, we do not allow tunnels to be erected over existing wild berry patches but we would allow berries to be planted/transplanted to a tilled bed within a seasonal high tunnel.
Michele explained that although high tunnels are minimally impacting land with the goal to grow locally grown food, we must still meet farm bill wetland and highly erodible requirements.
Michele would like feed back for this proposal of exemption with conditions by June 1st.
A brief open discussion on the proposal followed.
 

State Resource Assessment, State GIS Specialist Ted Cox
See handout/attachment (updated)
A national requirement had been set to identify state resource concerns by landuse and assign priority resource concerns within the State. Future uses of the findings could be used support goal setting for agency efforts and possibly funding. We were required to provide information by GIS mapping and spreadsheet. We divided areas as we saw would best fit the State of Alaska; some states used watersheds, some crop areas, some political divisions.

Alaska has more private ownership (including Tribal Corporation) of property than 26 states, listed in handout by square mile.

The SRA strategy was outlined and explanation provided. We had to prioritize resources concerns by land cover. We were careful to not miss areas when pulling out private land ownership by land cover.

31 standard resource concerns were provided from NHQ – we had to pick from this list and could not add to it.

Alaska identified 13 concerns.

Resource concerns, by land cover, by acres were summarized. Each was ranked and assigned a priority. Priority was set by what we thought we could address with NRCS staff and farm bill practices in the next three years.

Margaret questioned if stream bank erosion identified is limited to human caused or natural. Shown on the map are both, but in Alaska more are largely natural. Along the rivers, the width of effected areas is 5 miles.

Some figures are best estimated of what NRCS can impact through farm bill programs. On a national scale, we are showing potential conservation planning. Alaska shows a broad area of potential work, for example, five miles around all village centers.

Helen commented, we hope and plan to address energy and air quality in villages in future years. We were careful to include village concerns through this process of assessment as to not be limited in the future. The assessment shows potential clients and potential activities for NRCS.
Ted summarized that many resource concerns overlap. The final ranking spreadsheet was shared.
Jeff commented that USFS completed a similar activity a few years ago and now have set priorities for federal funding based on their findings.
Helen and Bob explained we do not expect to be limited to where we can provide assistance but expect the assessment to direct funding by state (not within the state).
Margaret asked about energy practices. Helen explained that current energy practices are efficiency focused.
 

Announcement of 2011 In-State Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) Winners, Helen Denniston
See handout/attachment
EQIP funding is used for CIG. The grants are completive and open to nonfederal agencies, universities, tribes, or individuals.

National grants are available (as are state grants). The grant is a two step process: a proposal and a full proposal of selected entries. The full proposal includes time lines, budgets.

After the national program is announced, each state is allowed to hold an instate competition. Alaska is in its second year of holding an instate CIG. Up to 5 percent of EQIP funding can be set aside for CIG. In-state funding is limited to a maximum of $75,000 per each recipient.

An environmental assessment (EA) must be completed prior to agreements being entered into between NRCS and applicants. The agreements are for three years and require updates, quarterly reports, and public presentations and field demonstrations.

Approved proposals were shared. See handout/attachment. (Note: these proposals have not yet entered into agreements.)

Q and A
Jeff asked about the time line. Helen explained that it follows federal budgeting.

Dan asked if profit businesses are eligible. Helen said yes.
 

Committee Reports
Subsistence Committee, Charles Parker
No report

Questions and Answers
No further comments
 

Adjourn, Helen Denniston

 

Presentations and Handouts
To request presentations and handouts contact Executive Assistance Dee Covalt at the Alaska NRCS State Office at (907) 761-7747 or phillma.covalt@ak.usda.gov.
 

In-person participants
Jeff Graham, State Forester
Dan Parrent, Forester, USFS
Erik Johnson, Alaska DNR
David Ianson, Palmer SWCD
Margaret Adsit, Alaska Farmland Trust
Steve Hicks, AACD

NRCS Staff
Robert Jones, State Conservationist
Helen Denniston, State Resource Conservationist
Al White, Assistant State Conservationist for Programs
Molly Voeller, State Public Affairs Specialist
Dee Covalt, Assistant to State Conservationist
Bill Wood, State Biologist
Michele Schuman, State Ecologist
Craig Smith, State Agronomist
Kristi Hicks, State Administrative Officer
 

Call-in participants
Ron Wolfe, Sealaska
Mike Edwards, USFWS
John Delap, USFWS
Danny Consenstein,USDA FSA