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USDA to invest in Prairie Pothole landscape effort

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is investing up to $35 million in this region to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that restore grasslands and wetlands.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is investing up to $35 million in this region to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that restore grasslands and wetlands.

Prairie Pothole Region Map

The Prairie Pothole Region consists of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Montana.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that up to $35 million will be provided during the next three years to help landowners conserve grasslands and wetlands in the Prairie Pothole region. The announcement was made on the Secretary’s behalf by Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie.

Farmers, ranchers and conservation partners will have access to a mix of financial and technical assistance opportunities to restore wetlands and grasslands and help mitigate a recent regional trend of conversion to croplands.

“This region of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Montana provides critical breeding and nesting habitat for more than 60 percent of the nation’s migratory waterfowl,” Bonnie said of the Prairie Pothole region.

The wetlands and grasslands that characterize the region provide vital water storage to reduce regional flooding, improve water quality, and have tremendous potential to store carbon in soils, which reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the leading greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

“Our goal is to help landowners manage their working lands in a way that’s compatible with agricultural production and good stewardship of the soil, water and habitat resources of the area,” Bonnie said. “So we are really talking about keeping working lands working.”

The funding comes in a couple of pieces, including:

Environmental Quality Incentives Program: The agency’s largest conservation program will help producers with expiring Conservation Reserve Program contracts keep their lands as working grasslands or haylands through implementation of prescribed grazing and other conservation practices.

• Ducks Unlimited-NRCS partnership for carbon credits: NRCS is working with North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana to create a carbon credit marketing system for landowners who agreed to avoid tilling grasslands. This work started in 2011 in North Dakota as part of a Conservation Innovation Grant, but now it’s being expanded to the three states. Through this system, interested landowners can keep their land in grass, continue grazing and haying, and generate verified carbon credits that place a conservation easement on their land. These credits can be sold or traded into existing voluntary carbon markets.

NRCS also is providing additional technical assistance to complete certified wetland determinations, needed by producers to meet conservation compliance requirements first put in place in 1985.

Additionally, the 2014 Farm Bill has expanded opportunities for conserving grasslands and wetlands, including those in the Prairie Pothole region. USDA also recently solicited proposals for Conservation Innovation Grants. A previous USDA grant went to Ducks Unlimited and other partners to develop a carbon credit system for North Dakota landowners in the Prairie Pothole region.

For more information on these opportunities, visit a local NRCS field office or NRCS' Prairie Pothole Wetland and Grassland Retention Project webpage.