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News Release

NRCS, partners usher in a new era in conservation

New conservation initiative goes beyond traditional government efforts

 

Annapolis, Md., May 27, 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.  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.

“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 Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” said Jon Hall, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist in Maryland.

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. Most of Maryland is included in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed critical conservation area.

The largest estuary in North America, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed covers 64,000 square miles and includes more than 150 rivers and streams that drain into the bay. With almost 30 percent of the area in agricultural production, the region’s over 83,000 farms generate more than $10 billion annually. The 2013 Conservation Effects Assessment Program study shows that there have been significant reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment loading from cropland in the area in recent years. However, the report also estimates that nearly 20 percent of cropland acres still have a high level of conservation treatment needed. With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships in the watershed to design and help fund innovative projects to address these conservation needs while supporting rural economies, protecting wildlife habitat and ultimately improving water quality in the bay.

For proposals in Maryland, priorities include: water quality, soil health, wetland restoration and easements, land easements, habitat improvement for endangered and threatened species and air quality. For more state-specific information on RCPP, visit Maryland NRCS' RCPP webpage.

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

The announcement of program funding can be found grants.gov. 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.