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Minutes of November 2013 STAC Meeting

State Technical Advisory Committee Meeting Minutes November 14, 2013

Jerry Schaefer (NRCS) opened the meeting at 10:02 a.m. Jerry briefly discussed that the reason for having held off on holding the meeting was the NRCS hope that we would be able to discuss a new farm bill as well. However, that is not yet possible, but the meeting needed to be held in order to discuss some important information. Jerry turned it over to Tim Ouellette to provide an update on NRCS easement programs. 

Tim provided information on three NRCS programs: The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP). 

WRP: For WRP, Tim discussed the Geographic Area Rate Caps (GARCs) for WRP. He mentioned that the county groupings did not change but that the GARC rates went up in two county groups and the rates went down in two groups due to decreasing land values. Exact GARC rate are posted on the Montana NRCS WRP website at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/programs/easements/wetlands/.

GRP: For GRP, Tim reminded everyone that NRCS targets funding to several counties in the middle of the state based upon the goal of protecting sage grouse habitat. GRP information, including GRP GARCs, is available on the internet at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/programs/easements/grassland/.

FRPP: For FRPP, Tim brought forward an NRCS proposal for input from the committee members. Tim pointed out that current FRPP focus is on land with 50% or more of prime, unique, or statewide significant soils. Montana NRCS wants to add in the ability to include sage grouse habitat as a consideration. This would increase the NRCS ability to provide easement funding in sage grouse areas. Jeff Schahczenski asked if there was a precedent from other states for doing this and if this meets the intent of the FRPP program to protect important soils. Tim stated that other states, such as Wyoming, Nevada, and Oregon, are doing it and that there are a couple of large example ranches in central Montana that we cannot help to protect due to a shortage of GRP funding and the inclusion of FRPP funding will aid that effort. Several members of the committee voiced support for the idea. These included: Catherine Wightman, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks; Robert Boettcher; Dave Stevenson; Connie Iversen; Steve Hedstrom, Dan Bailey, Marc Shane, and Mark Okey, Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Mary Ann Murray expressed concern about permanent easements in general. Jeff Schahczenski pointed out that the purpose of FRPP was to protect land that is in danger of development; particularly around cities and that he hopes that purpose would not be discounted and that appropriate priorities would be designated for the funds.

Jerry opened it up for additional questions or discussion for Tim. Jeff Schahczenski asked if there was any word on a 2014 Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) sign-up. Tim said no, but that NRCS continues to accept CSP applications for the next announced batching period.

 Jerry turned the meeting over to Heidi Brewer and Val Bickwermert (Farm Services Agency) for updates on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Val stated that CRP authorization ended and they are awaiting re-authorization through a new farm bill. She reviewed the data from the 2013 sign-up efforts that included:

  • Continuous - no data from national office,
  • Highly Erodible Land Initiative - 36 contracts for 7,505 acres,
  • State Acres for Wildlife (SAFE):
    • 6,945 acres in Prairie Pothole for Ducks, and
    • 8,748 acres in Pheasants Winter Cover.
  • Sage Grouse/Brush - 1,620 acres waiting for enrollment when CRP is re-authorized.

Val also mentioned that on June 18, 2013, FSA had requested an additional 20,000 acres for CP37 Duck Nesting Habitat. 

Jerry asked for any closing thoughts or questions. Jeff Schahczenski mentioned that the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) had received a grant from the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to review the link between cover crop implementation and crop insurance. Jeff mentioned that NCAT will be holding workshops and that attendance and input is welcome.

Mark Okey from Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) advised everyone that DEQ and NRCS have met on the NRCS National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI) and that they plan to hold a meeting of the Water Activities Committee to discuss prioritizing Montana watersheds several years into the future. DEQ will be in touch.

 Jerry adjourned the meeting at 10:30 a.m.