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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

Contact: Petra Barnes
NRCS State Public Information Officer
Office Number: 720-544-2808
Fax Number: 720-544-2965
E-Mail:
Petra.Barnes@co.usda.gov

June 4, 2014 - DENVER, CO Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow to launch a new era in American conservation efforts with an historic focus on public-private partnership. The new conservation program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and was developed by streamlining four conservation programs managed and administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).   USDA is now accepting RCPP proposals and pre-proposals are due July 14, while full proposal are due September 26.  For more information on applying, visit www.grants.gov, using keyword conservation.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” said Vilsack. “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. By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation, and other industries.” 

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.

“Local decision making is empowered through this program– bringing together conservation groups, cities and townships, sportsmen groups, universities, agricultural associations and others – to design conservation projects that are tailored to our needs here in Colorado,”said Eugene Backhaus, Acting NRCS State Conservationist in Colorado.

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 and 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, which received 35 percent of the program’s overall funding  they include the 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.

Parts of Colorado are included in Prairie Grasslands, and the Colorado River Basin.

Irrigated agriculture is vitally important to the economy and quality of life in the Colorado River Basin. The area’s water use is shared among 33 million people in the U.S., plus three million in Mexico. Faced with historic drought conditions and water supply pressures, farmers, ranchers, Indian tribes and other water users are in urgent need of accelerated conservation on agricultural lands. With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships in the region to accelerate conservation efforts to address these internationally significant conservation issues. USDA will focus assistance on promoting soil health, improving irrigation, addressing drought and helping to promote sustainable use of water resources throughout the basin.

One of the most threatened ecosystems in North America, native prairie and grasslands contained within the Prairie Grasslands Region are essential habitat for a number of wild game and threatened species, including the lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse. The region also encompasses the Red River Basin and the Ogallala Aquifer—areas that are facing critical conservation needs on working lands from frequent flooding and ponding (in the north) to prolonged drought and aquifer decline (in the Ogallala). With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships to accelerate conservation efforts and address these water resource and habitat issues. For example, in the Red River Basin of the North, USDA, partners and producers will continue to build on conservation programs to support water retention and mitigate frequent flooding. In the Ogallala, partners will accelerate irrigation efficiency and water conservation work.

For proposals in Colorado priorities include: Energy, Forest Health, Water Quality, and Water Quantity.  “This program is a prime example of how government can serve as a catalyst for private investment in rural America,” Backhaus goes on to say. 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.

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