USDA and partners usher in a new era in conservation
Diane Baedeker Petit
413-253-4371, cell 413-835-1276
New conservation initiative goes beyond traditional government efforts
AMHERST, Mass., June 2, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has 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, including Massachusetts. RCPP streamlines federal 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.
“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 the Commonwealth,” said Christine Clarke, NRCS State Conservationist in Massachusetts.
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: 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.
Although Massachusetts is not in one of the eight critical conservation areas, RCPP will address state priorities, including: water quality degradation, soil quality degradation, soil erosion, plant condition degradation, inadequate fish and wildlife habitat, energy use inefficiency and insufficient water. For more state-specific information on RCPP, visit NRCS Massachusetts’ website.
“This program is a prime example of how government can serve as a catalyst for private investment in natural resource conservation,” Clarke said.
The announcement of program funding can be found on Grants.gov. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are due Sept. 26.
To learn about technical and financial assistance available through NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStartedor local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.