April 28, 2009
State Technical Committee Meeting Minutes
DATE: April 28, 2009
TIME: 9:00 a.m.
PLACE: Metro Tech, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Jacob Moore, Land Legacy
Jeff Crosby, Land Legacy
Mike Sams, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
John Hendrix, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Dixie Birch, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Trent Holland, Cherokee Nation
George Geissler, OK Forestry Services
Shanon Phillips, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Ben Pollard, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Mark Aaron Betts, USDA – Wildlife Services/Vance AFB
Barth Crouch, Playa Lakes Joint Venture
Ross Huffman, National Wild Turkey Federation
Melinda Thompson, Farm Service Agency
Rod Wanger, Farm Service Agency
Bob Hamilton, The Nature Conservancy
Kurt Atkinson, OK Department of Ag, Food, & Forestry
Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University
Jay Pruett, The Nature Conservancy
Jean Steiner, USDA/ARS
Melissa Shackford, The Nature Conservancy
Derek Sparks, U.S. Representative Mary Fallin’s Office
Nathan Johnson, Ducks Unlimited
Kara Williams, Office of Secretary of Environment
Paul Jackson, American Farmers & Ranchers
Scott Dewald, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association
Marla Peek, OK Farm Bureau
Larry Harden, Oklahoma Department of Ag, Food, & Forestry
Terry Bidwell, Oklahoma State University
Mike Thralls, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Monica Duke, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Suzanne Collier, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Lanny Miller, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Ron Hilliard, Natural Resources Conservation Service
Joni Mustain, Natural Resources Conservation Service
1. Meeting Called to Order – Ron
Ron Hilliard welcomed the group and stated that he appreciates
everyone taking time to attend. All attendees introduced themselves to the
Ron discussed the stimulus funds that NRCS has received, and mentioned the
Floodplain Easement Program for which Oklahoma held a signup and received 31
applications. Oklahoma NRCS submitted 15 applications for $6 million dollars to
national headquarters to request funding for this program which provides another
opportunity to keep landowners out of floodplain areas. Ron also mentioned the
Sugar Creek project, an $8 million dollar project in Caddo County. He stated
there are a lot of things going on at this time, and he stated he appreciates
Mary Fallin sending a representative to this meeting. Ron informed the group
that Oklahoma NRCS will receive allocations for this year’s Farm Bill tomorrow.
2. Farm Bill Update – Lanny Miller, NRCS
Lanny stated he appreciates the feedback NRCS receives from this group. He
commented that NRCS does not have all the information for our programs yet, but
we need to move forward and need the State Technical Committee members’ input.
The new Farm Bill became law on June 18, 2008, and increased funding nationally
by 4.2 billion dollars. This Farm Bill focuses on agricultural and forestry
lands, recognizes agricultural production and conservation as compatible goals,
and modified the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) limits. Working land conservation
programs include the following: Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP),
Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, Conservation Security Program,
and Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program. Conservation easement programs include:
Conservation Reserve Program, Farm & Ranch Lands Protection Program, Grassland
Reserve Program, Healthy Forests Reserve Program, and the Wetlands Reserve
Program. Oklahoma is one of 4 states in the nation to be approved for the
Healthy Forests Reserve Program.
EQIP: Lanny stated that the EQIP involves implementation of practices
such as terraces, ponds, grade stabilization structures, and no-till systems.
EQIP may be increased by $3.5 billion nationally. Lanny commented that the
Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) replaces the Ground and Surface
Water Conservation Program and assists landowners with practices for
agricultural water quality and water conservation enhancement activities. The
Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) provides an emphasis on the transfer of
innovative technologies and approaches and increased participation of specialty
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP): NRCS works closely with the
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) and their four technicians
to deliver this program. The annual payment limitation for WHIP is $50,000;
there was no payment limitation previously. The program is limited to private
agricultural land, nonindustrial private forestland, and tribal lands.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP): This program was previously named
the Conservation Security Program and it will be delivered nationally. Training
was set for next week, but has been postponed. A CSP Signup will be held soon,
and will be limited to 5 year contracts, with a $200,000 payment limitation, and
an emphasis on nonindustrial private forest land.
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP): The WRP is an easement program utilized
to restore and enhance wetlands; most acreage enrolled is in the southeastern
part of the state. Enrollment changes provide that governments are not eligible
and landowners must own the land for 7 years. There may be further clarification
on the ownership rule when policy is finalized. Easement valuation changes
provide that a before and after appraisal is not required and there is now an
opportunity to do a market analysis in lieu of appraisals. There are presently
applications encompassing 3,500 acres on Oklahoma’s backlog list, and it is
expected that the program will continue to increase.
Grassland Reserve Program (GRP): The GRP is administered jointly between
NRCS and FSA, and its primary purpose is to protect grazing lands. There is a
nationwide requirement that there will be a 60%/40% split between
easements/rental contracts. GRP now provides the opportunity for eligible
entities to cooperate with NRCS to purchase easements.
Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP): The FRPP is designed to
protect prime and unique farmland. The minimum entity contribution was changed
to 25% of the easement acquisition price rather than 25% of the appraised fair
market value, and the entity is allowed to designate the terms and conditions of
its deed subject to approval by the Secretary.
Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI): Oklahoma received
one proposal for this program, and 6% of EQIP funds will be used for CCPI.
Lanny stated that individuals or entities are eligible to participate in
conservation programs if their average non-farm AGI is less than $1,000,000, or
2/3 of the average total AGI is from farming, ranching, or forestry. Web service
applications must be designed and in place for the new Farm Bill requirements
for AGI. This was to have been completed by spring, but has not been
accomplished yet, so has slowed down the process. NRCS is still waiting for
final rules and policy in order to obligate funds and move forward with our
programs. It is estimated that it may be June before funds are allowed to be
Lanny stated that for historically underserved participants, payment rates have
been increased, and advance payments up to 30% for EQIP can be made. There will
be a 5% funding set-aside for each group in EQIP, and a 5% acreage set-aside for
each group in CSP.
Lanny stated he appreciates this group’s input, and NRCS will continue to
provide information to the group, but are still working from teleconferences to
Derek Sparks of Representative Mary Fallin’s office asked whether there is a
concern that the Farm Bill will not be authorized this calendar year due to all
the work involved with the stimulus funds that were received. Lanny replied that
he has not heard this, only that there will be delays. Ron thinks that due to
the magnitude of what this new Farm Bill involves, it is just taking time, and
the Farm Bill will be fielded in a very fast pace. Ron informed the group that
he as State Conservationist has the latitude to grant waivers to landowners to
go ahead and begin their work before their contracts are approved. Hundreds of
waivers have been issued so that landowners can commence their practices.
Ben Pollard asked about the proposal for AWEP and CCPI and what the specifics
are, and the reply was water conservation and improved irrigation in 3 panhandle
counties. CCPI can be viewed as a glorified local emphasis area. It takes EQIP
and WHIP funds to target to an area; this proposal came in with a targeted LEA
which does not have to go through the ranking process. This is not the grant
program it used to be, and it was asked whether government entities are allowed.
Mike Sams asked about CCPI and if this is a national mandate for what Oklahoma
is already doing with LEAs. Lanny stated that CCPI is very comparable to LEAs,
but they do not compete for funding and there is a partner that NRCS works with.
Existing guidance for CCPI is on the Oklahoma NRCS home page under EQIP.
Terry Bidwell asked whether there has been work done to evaluate the CSP and
whether people who applied in the past will still receive benefits. Lanny
replied that the tier system will go away, but existing landowners enrolled will
still get their payments. John Hendrix asked if CSP is still targeted by
watershed, and Lanny replied that no, it is offered statewide and nationwide.
3. State Technical Committee - Suzanne Collier,
Suzanne stated that the State Technical
Committee serves as an advisory group to USDA to provide input to NRCS and FSA.
All meetings are open meetings and are available to the public. An updated State
Technical Committee Policy, including the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
for the Committee, was published in the Federal Register on April 7, 2009.
Changes to the Committee established with the new Farm Bill are: expanded
agricultural and forestry involvement on the Committee; modified
responsibilities of the Committee; exempted Local Working Groups from the
Federal Advisory Committee Act; added review of whether Local Working Groups are
addressing state (national) priorities; supports standardization of Committee
operations through the development of SOPs; and reaffirmed the role of the
Committee as advisory in nature.
Statutory required members of the Committee are: NRCS, FSA, US Forest Service,
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (formerly the Cooperative State
Research Education and Extension Service), State Fish and Wildlife Agency, State
Forester, State Water Resources Agency, State Department of Agriculture, State
Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Agribusiness, Nonprofits
with demonstrable conservation expertise, Owners of nonindustrial private forest
land, and Agriculture Producers.
Because of the new changes to the Committee, NRCS will be sending out a
questionnaire to gain contact information and email addresses from each agency.
Please reply to this mailing in order that meeting notifications will reach the
NRCS’s webpage does include State Technical Committee Meeting Minutes. The SOP
and interim final rule are also posted on the website.
4. Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) – Suzanne
Collier, NRCS, & Rod Wanger, FSA
Suzanne reported that a GRP signup is
ongoing. New applications are being accepted, and the ranking cutoff date is May
15th. She also reported that Oklahoma funded 102 rental agreements across 24
counties on over 52,000 acres from 2002-2007. In addition, five easements were
funded in four counties on over 5,500 acres. The total financial assistance
amounted to $8,645,712. The backlog of applications was well over $66 million
from the initial years of the program signup.
The Farm Bill changed rental agreements to rental “contracts”. Only permanent
easements are now available; there are no more 30 year easements. FSA
administers the rental contracts; NRCS handles the easements. Priority
enrollment is available for land previously enrolled in CRP if the land is
eligible land, is of high ecological value, and is under significant threat of
conversion to uses other than grazing. In addition, authority has been provided
for NRCS to enter into cooperative agreements with eligible entities to own,
write, and enforce easements.
Suzanne reported that nationally, 60% of GRP funding is to be used for
easements, and 40% for rental contracts. If a state only wants to accept
easements OR rental contracts, approval would be needed from the NRCS Chief.
Oklahoma will acquire appraisals for all GRP easement applications that NRCS
wishes to fund. Oklahoma received an initial allocation of $1,637,348 in
financial assistance for fiscal year 2009.
Suzanne stated that State Technical Committee input is needed for: restoration
practices and cost-share rates, Geographical Area Rate Caps, state priorities
for project selection, and ranking and evaluation criteria.
Mike Sams questioned if hayland figures into this, and Suzanne replied yes,
anything in support of a grazing situation. John Hendrix asked how CRP contracts
will be handled, and Suzanne replied that expiring CRP is in the ranking
Ranking & Evaluation Criteria: Rod Wanger discussed the Evaluation
Criteria Worksheet with the group. He stated a landowner receives more points
for longer contracts and for an easement. Priority enrollment is given for
expiring CRP acres; the landowner receives points if the land is enrolled in a
20 year contract or a permanent easement. If an entity submits an application,
100 points are received as they provide 50% of the funds and manage the
easement. More points are received if no restoration is needed, or if the
landowner is willing to pay for the restoration costs. Terry Bidwell asked about
the benchmark for restoration – if it is from the technical guide, inventory of
invasive species, etc, and Lanny replied it is based on ecological site guides.
If at least 90% of the offered acres contribute directly to the forage base of
the grazing operation, extra points are received also.
Rod then provided information regarding how extra points are received for
protection from threats to conversion. If the offered acres are located in one
of the identified counties AND at least 51% of the acres are within 3 miles of
known/visible expanding developments, extra points are received. Marla Peek
questioned why Oklahoma and Tulsa Counties were left out, and another member of
the group commented that Osage County is excluded and you might pay less for an
easement there than in Oklahoma County. Rod also stated that an application
receives more points at ranking if no wind power will be developed. Dwayne
Elmore commented that it should be based on wind likelihood instead of wind
potential, and he thinks Osage County should be added to the map. John Hendrix
commented he thinks the points should be increased to 50 or more from the 25
suggested. Shanon Phillips asked if additional points could be added for
critical habitat for the Lesser Prairie Chicken, and Suzanne replied that this
is covered in the ranking criteria in Section D.
Rod reported that native rangelands and prairies receive 50 points, and
introduced pastures receive 30 points in the ranking criteria. Mike Sams
commented that the concern of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
is to stress natives, introduced pasture/no restoration – 80 points, and native
range with cedars removed – 75 points. Dwayne Elmore suggested not offering
extra points for introduced pastures, maybe give 10 points instead of 30 points.
Paul Jackson stated he would hate to drop the points to 10 points as there are
so many introduced pastures. Marla Peek and Scott Dewald both commented that due
to the goals of the program, they want to see the points remain at 30. Jean
Steiner commented that for contracts coming out of CRP, there are already given
50 points. Terry Bidwell stated the biodiversity of introduced pasture is “0”,
and Dwayne Elmore agreed with that statement. A comment was made that
applications do get extra points for the Lesser Prairie Chicken, extra points
for non-development, and 25 points for agreeing not to do wind generation. Rod
asked if there are any other species to add, or should the black-tailed prairie
dog be removed. A comment was made to include the Mountain Plover, which is a
Location significance – proximity of area offered to other protected areas such
as refuges, and wildlife management areas, national forests, natural areas, or
permanent conservation easements was also discussed as far as how close to the
protected area, and if the acreage limit should be taken out. Dwayne Elmore
commented that proximity to grasslands should be added in order to have
contiguous areas of grasslands. Terry Bidwell commented that the location
language is unfortunate as the idea of protection is excluding private lands.
Terry stated the assumption is that because it is owned by the government, it is
in good condition and that is not true. There was also a question about C4 of
the worksheet regarding making the landowner manage the area to keep “junk” off
his land under contract. Mike Sams asked how C4 would be determined, and the
reply was to look at the offered acres and pasture that borders it; it will be a
visual assessment from the property being offered. Shanon Phillips commented on
the purposes of GRP and how she would like to see the priority of watersheds
tied into grasslands. John Hendrix stated if the offered acres have never been
tilled or manipulated, he would like to see it receive 50 points. A comment
regarding D4 (location significance) was made suggesting that something be
included in the language for private land, nature preserves.
A handout was provided to the group, detailing proposed restoration practices
for GRP, as well as a handout for proposed Geographic Area Rate Caps (GARCs)
which was developed by the NRCS economist. The landowner will be paid the lesser
of the appraised value, GARC, or landowner offer.
Rod also discussed CRP and the fact that Oklahoma has 160,000 acres coming out
of the program this year. He stated there is an Environmental Impact Statement
being conducted, and it will be awhile before there is a signup. The cap has
been lowered to 32 million acres beginning in 2010. Only 1 ½ million acres will
be put back in, and for 70% of these acres, people will have to do something
with them (70% of 160,000 acres in Oklahoma). They will receive an average of
$32/acre in CRP, but the majority will have a commodity base and will enroll in
the commodity program. They will have the opportunity to hay and graze, and can
enroll in GRP. John Hendrix asked if 25% of the county is still the cap, and Rod
replied yes, but they must set a fraction of a % of their county for CREP.
5. Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP)
– Suzanne Collier
Suzanne stated that the 2002 Farm Bill
allowed Cooperative Agreements to be developed with eligible entities for the
FRPP. The 2008 Farm Bill requires the Secretary to establish criteria for
certified entities that have demonstrated their ability to administer easements.
Certified eligible entities are eligible for agreements of five years or more;
non-certified eligible entities are eligible for agreements of three to five
years. In Oklahoma, there are no “certified” entities.
Suzanne reported that entities have until June 12th to submit proposals to the
State Conservationist. NRCS is not acquiring the easement; the entity handles
the acquisition process and the management of the easement. NRCS provides funds
to the entity, but the entity holds the easement and NRCS does not have the
right of enforcement. Suzanne stated that a yellow book appraisal is not
required, and the entity has the choice of the type of appraisal utilized. The
State Technical Committee provides input to the State Conservationist on the
weight of the national ranking factors and any state factors to be considered in
the evaluation of FRPP parcels. Suzanne reported there are no unique or soils of
statewide significance in Oklahoma. Ben Pollard asked how this relates to MLRA,
and the reply was that 50% of the offered parcel has to contain a map unit with
“prime” soils. Terry Bidwell stated “prime” is usually Class 1, occasionally
John Hendrix stated he would like to see this program expanded; US Fish &
Wildlife Service designated the Tallgrass Prairie as an important ecological
site and relates to “furthers a State or local policy consistent with the
purposes of the program”. Mike Sams commented that ODWC would like to see the
Shinery Oak Grasslands in western Oklahoma considered.
Suzanne then discussed the eight Nationally Mandated Factors which were listed
in a handout provided along with the State Ranking Factors to be considered.
Dwayne Elmore questioned if forestland would be included since there is an
increased interest in forestland in the Farm Bill, and Suzanne replied that
private forestland would be eligible for FRPP if it occurred on prime soils and
was to be maintained in production. Dwayne asked whether they would be eligible
if there is cattle grazing with forestland as the sole purpose would not be
timber harvest, and Suzanne replied they would be eligible. John Hendrix asked
if the ranking points could be manipulated in the 8 national categories, and
Suzanne replied they can be manipulated. Suzanne also commented that parcels
will have to close in less than 18 months.
6. Closing Remarks -
Lanny Miller asked the group to email or
mail input to USDA/NRCS for any programs. He stated he feels there was excellent
discussion during the meeting, valuable information was gained, and he
appreciates the input.
Ron Hilliard commented that we now have opportunities to gain lands that were
not available in the past; it opens it up where we can do a lot more. Ron stated
we need this committee’s input to get our programs going and he appreciates the
attendance and discussion. He also informed the group that NRCS will be sending
a mailing to committee members to request their contact information, and asked
that they please return their information to us.
Ron thanked the group for their attendance and the meeting was adjourned.
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