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Heather Emmons

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USDA Awards $75k Grant to Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition to Test Pinyon-juniper Biochar on Agricultural Lands

United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service
1365 Corporate Blvd.
Reno, NV 89502
Phone (775) 857-8500

         

For Immediate Release
Nov. 12, 2013

 

Repurposing PJ?  USDA Awards $75k Grant to Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition to Test Pinyon-juniper Biochar on Agricultural Lands

 

Reno, Nev.— In an effort to make good use of pinyon-juniper biomass that has been removed through conservation, fuels reduction and wildlife habitat conservation projects, the Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition applied for, and received, a $75,000 Conservation Innovation Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  The grant will be used to fund the first-ever field trials in Nevada to test whether biochar applied in production agriculture and rangeland restoration settings will significantly increase water availability and productivity, even during drought years.

In the Great Basin, one of the major impacts on rangeland is the encroachment and expansion of singleleaf pinyon pine and Utah juniper (PJ for short) outside of normal, desired locations.  Woodlands dominated by these plants have been expanding since the turn of the century and currently occupy about 21 million acres of land in the western United States.  These plants, if left unchecked by management or natural processes, end up overtaking areas formerly dominated by shrubs and grasses.  PJ expansion and encroachment decreases important wildlife habitat, especially for the Greater Sage Grouse—a sagebrush-dependent species—and increases the fuel loading that carry catastrophic wildfires.  There are also impacts to water quality and quantity, and herbaceous species, all while increasing erosion and providing prime conditions for weed invasion.  Nevada is the driest state in the Union, with years of drought, so losing soil moisture due to PJ residing outside of expected locations can exacerbate the effects. 

“With this project, we are providing leveraging and synergy by addressing an ecological problem in one place—PJ encroachment—and using what would have been the waste product to potentially improve agriculture land and rangeland for hundreds or thousands of years,” said Jake Tibbitts, Natural Resources Manager for the Eureka County, Nevada Department of Natural Resources and the local project coordinator. “By turning woody biomass, such as PJ, into biochar, and then returning the biochar to the soil at or near the site where the biomass was harvested, we hope to maintain or improve soil moisture and productivity, improve sage grouse and other wildlife habitat and return soil carbon to historic levels.  This technique is expected to reduce the overall cost of PJ treatment by creating a value and beneficial use for the removed woody biomass, thereby helping to stimulate the local economy while addressing a resource issue.”

While trials similar to these have taken place in laboratories or greenhouses, these trials will be the first of their kind to take place on working farms in Nevada—specifically in Diamond Valley, near Eureka.     

What is biochar? 

Biochar is a product of pyrolysis.  It’s the result of taking organic matter, such as PJ woody biomass, and “baking” it under low oxygen conditions.  The original biomass releases (1) heat and gases during its conversion into liquids (bio-oils) and (2) various black carbon solid products—biochar.  Biochar has been touted for its potential to generate energy, mitigate pollution, and store carbon, potentially mitigating climate change via carbon sequestration.  It may increase soil moisture and fertility, increase agricultural productivity and provide protection against some plant and soil-borne diseases.  Biochar is essentially pure carbon—a stable solid—and can remain in soil for thousands of years.

What are Conservation Innovation Grants?

NRCS provides funding opportunities for agriculturalists and others through various programs. Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) is a voluntary program intended to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies while leveraging Federal investment in environmental enhancement and protection, in conjunction with agricultural production.  Under CIG, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds are used to award competitive grants to non-Federal governmental or nongovernmental organizations, Tribes, or individuals.

CIG enables NRCS to work with other public and private entities to accelerate technology transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches to address some of the nation's most pressing natural resource concerns.  CIG will benefit agricultural producers by providing more options for environmental enhancement and compliance with Federal, State, and local regulations.

The grant to Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition is one of 33 that Agriculture Secretary  Tom Vilsack announced was awarded across the nation to develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to accelerate private lands conservation. 

"Conservation Innovation Grants activate creativity and problem-solving to benefit conservation-minded farmers and ranchers," Vilsack said.  "These grants are critical for developing and demonstrating new ideas for conservation on America's private lands and strengthening rural communities.  Everyone relies on our nation's natural resources for food, fiber and clean water and will benefit from these grants."

The awards total $13.3 million.  At least 50 percent of the total cost of CIG projects must come from non-federal matching funds, including cash and in-kind contributions provided by the grant recipient.  NRCS has offered this grant program since 2004, investing in ways to demonstrate and transfer efficient and environmentally friendly farming and ranching. 

For more on this grant program, visit USDA's Conservation Innovation Grants webpage, contact your local NRCS office or visit: www.nv.nrcs.usda.gov.

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Persons requiring special accommodations or materials in an alternative format or language should contact Heather Emmons, Public Affairs Officer, (775) 857-8500 x 105.

Heather Emmons
Nevada State Public Affairs Officer
Natural Resources Conservation Service
1365 Corporate Blvd.
Reno, NV 89502

(775) 857-8500 x 105