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October 27, 2009

State Technical Committee Meeting Minutes

DATE: July 15, 2010

TIME: 9:00 a.m.

PLACE: Metro Technology Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

PRESENT: Cletus Carter, FSA
Frank Johnson Jr., Chickasaw Nation Department of Commerce
Andrew Fang, OK Department of Environmental Quality
Larry Hensley, OGLCA
Jim Hensley, OGLCA
Josh Hensley, OGLCA
Helen Williams, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
TerryBidwell, OSU
Mike Bira, US EPA, Region 6
Hugh Aljoe, Noble Foundation
Anita K. Poole, AFR
Mike Sams, ODWC
John Hendrix, USFWS
Carl Parrott, ODEQ
Junior Welch, ORWA
Jeannie Anthony, ORWA
Shanon Phillips, OK Conservation Commission
Tyler Norvell, OK Farm Bureau
Melinda Thompson, FSA
Rod Wanger, FSA
Mike Thralls, OK Conservation Commission
Tyler Powell, Congressman Tom Cole
Chongo Mundende, Langston University
Amanda Storck, Secretary of Environment
John Burwell, ODAFF – Forestry Services
Trent Holland, Cherokee Nation
Kathy Moore, Farmer
Jean Steiner, USDA-ARS
Ben Pollard, OCC
Barth Crouch, Playa Lakes JV
Rick Maloney, OK Pork Council
Kenneth Hitch, NRCS
Melanie Oliver, NRCS
Suzanne Collier, NRCS
Kevin Cook, NRCS
Steve Barner, NRCS
Richard Zetterberg, NRCS
Ron Hilliard, NRCS
Joni Mustain, NRCS


AGENDA with links to Associated Topics in the Minutes

Welcome and Introductions                                            
Ron Hilliard, NRCS

Conservation Reserve Program                   
Rod Wanger, FSA

Agency Reports
Mike Thralls, NRCS
Mike Sams, NRCS
John Hendrix, USFWS

NRCS Program Manager Reports
Kenneth Hitch, NRCS
Suzanne Collier, NRCS
Melanie Oliver, NRCS
Steve Barner, NRCS

Input for 2011 Programs and Questions
Richard Zetterberg, NRCS

Closing Remarks
Ron Hilliard, NRCS

Minutes from the Meeting

1. MEETING CALLED TO ORDER – RON HILLIARD, NRCS, CHAIRMAN

Ron Hilliard welcomed the group and commented on issues with NRCS involvement such as the Lesser Prairie Chicken, the Gulf issues (NRCS has a bird migration program with $20 million dollars allocated which involves flooding cropland), Energy Audits (only a couple signed up for this), and the Organic Initiative which is in its second year, and Tunnel Houses. Ron stated that things are changing within the organization. He reported that a second CSP signup is underway with 12.7 million acres available nationally. Ron also commented that the Invasive Plants Annual Meeting concluded yesterday, and there will be a Forum with NRCS, FSA, RD, and congressional staff in El Reno on the 31st at Redlands College from 9-12 to provide an update on programs.

All attendees then introduced themselves to the group, and Richard Zetterberg went over the agenda for today’s State Technical Committee meeting. <Back to agenda>

2.  CONSERVATION RESERVE PROGRAM, ROD WANGER, FSA

Rod Wanger reported that there will be a CRP General Signup; however, the regulations have not been published yet. FSA is working on preparatory work for the signup – reviewing rental rates and cost-shares. Rod stated there are 861,975 acres in the program, and 212,000 acres will expire on September 30th. He also provided that there were 1.18 million acres in CRP in 2006. Rod anticipates there will be a lot of acres offered in the general signup, and that there will not be much change as to what will be eligible.

Rod stated that Pollinator Habitat will be added as a concern as 10% of the acreage offered will go into that if you select the option which will give additional points. There are 9 species – 3 species flowering in 3 different seasons. Rod provided the group with a handout entitled, “Technical Notes” which provides information regarding the Pollinator Plant List.

Rod discussed CRP State Priority Areas for water, wildlife, and air quality. These are mainly areas with the Lesser Prairie Chicken and the OKC Watershed. These areas are limited to 33% of the state’s total cropland, and if a participant plants the right cover, he will get 30 points with another 30 for wildlife and 5 for air quality. An offer does not have to meet the Erodibility Index (EI) requirement if in a Priority Area; the average EI is 10.

Rod also discussed the regulation involving Voluntary Public Access and Habitat which provides grants to states and tribal governments to encourage owners and operators of private land to voluntarily make that land available for access by the public for wildlife-dependent recreation, including hunting and fishing under programs administered by State and Tribal governments.

Rod reported that FSA implements the Bio Mass Crop Assistance Program which emphasizes alternative fuel and pays for collection, harvest, transportation, and storage of bio-mass. This occurs in southeast Oklahoma where they would (for example), deliver tree limbs and take them to a facility such as International Paper where they are burned to run their facility. There was approximately $1 million dollars of activity for this program which has been shut down, but will start back up, paying farmers to plant and pay them a rental rate.<Back to agenda>

3. AGENCY REPORTS

Mike Thralls, OCC: Mike Thralls reported that $100 million dollars of financial and technical assistance work was delivered through all NRCS conservation programs which is a significant milestone. He stated that flood protection is very important, and $30 million dollars was utilized for aging dams (10% of the high hazard dams) which are critical to maintain. Mike commented that OCC has been working with EPA on water quality issues, and reported that 4 streams are delisted from EPA’s 303D list. Mike stated that this was made possible by the unique partnerships with NRCS and with EPA, and he hopes this model will be applied in other areas of the country.

Mike also reported that a bill was passed which established a Cedar Board through the State Department of Agriculture to look into the impacts of cedar issues. Mike stated that Secretary Terry Peach and the Commission will serve on the Board, which will also include appointees by the House, Senate, and the Governor. There may be a license tag available to support this cause if there is enough interest to provide the minimum required for the tags to be produced.

Mike Sams, ODWC: Mike Sams reported that ODWC has been working with NRCS and FSA regarding the CRP SAFE program. A plan was developed, and a memo sent last week to modify the proposal and expand opportunities in CRP for prairie chickens. Quail and Cassin’s sparrow will have to be monitored. Mike also commented on CRP Practice CP33, buffers for upland birds; there are a few acres in Oklahoma and they are looking at the monitoring aspect to it. About 60% more quail were seen in fields and 300% benefit in pheasants.

Mike stated that the Quail Habitat Restoration Initiative was well received and is in its fifth year. Research is being conducted with OSU regarding bird populations, but there is no data to share at this time. Mike also commented that ODWC has been working with NRCS through a WHIP Cooperative Agreement with 4 ODWC technicians to put $800,000 of work on the ground. ODWC is working to obligate WHIP funds and will be working with NRCS to streamline this program.

John Hendrix, US Fish & Wildlife Services: John Hendrix stated that USF&WS has been working with NRCS on the Healthy Forest Reserve Program which is targeted to protect the Big Eared Bat. John commented this is a unique opportunity to provide permanent easements to protect this species. John reported that the base budget for their Partners for Wildlife program is $400,000 each year in Oklahoma, which is utilized to work with OCC on prescribed burns, with ODWC to provide funds for state WHIP upland habitat, and with NRCS on wetlands habitat development. Other projects include riparian habitat enhancements, and removing red cedar in western Oklahoma targeting projects for the lesser prairie chicken.<Back to agenda>

4. NRCS PROGRAM MANAGER REPORTS

Kenneth Hitch, NRCS: Kenneth Hitch reported that Grant, Osage, Harmon, Jackson, and LeFlore counties obligated the most funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) in fiscal year 2010. Overall, Oklahoma obligated 1,138 contracts for $20,151, 396. Historically underserved participants accounted for 25% of those contracts. The practices with the highest obligation rates for fiscal year 2010 are Brush Management and Residue Management No-Till.

Kenneth also reported that over 2.7 million dollars were obligated for irrigation projects in fiscal year 2010 which will impact irrigation efficiency on over 32,000 acres. He stated that $1 ½ million dollars were allocated for the EQIP Organic Initiative, and 20 contracts were enrolled. For the Agricultural Energy Audits (AgEMP), Kenneth stated that landowners will work with a Technical Service Provider to develop an energy audit for their property. Oklahoma received two applications in Ottawa County on rather large chicken houses and $90,000 was set aside for this. Kenneth commented that there have been a lot of inquiries regarding AgEMP, and as it continues, a cost-share program may be implemented. Kenneth stated that NRCS is also continuing with the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative and the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative.

For the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Kenneth stated that 47 contracts were obligated totaling $560,000, and impacting 12,400 acres. Over half of the funding went to historically underserved farmers, and the most activity was in Woods and Adair Counties.

For Signup #1 of the Conservation Stewardship Program, 715 applications were received with 464 contracts obligated for over $7.5 million annually for the next 5 years. Signup #2 ended on June 25th, and 885 applications have been received to date.

Kenneth reported that the following programs were also offered in FY 2010:
• Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP): offered in Jackson County and the Panhandle counties;
• Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI): funded applications in Caddo County for the Kiowa Tribal, and the Sugar Creek Project was also awarded;
• Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG): Five applications were submitted for consideration in a national CIG and Oklahoma received four applications; however, two applications did not meet the parameters of the program and one application withdrew.

Kenneth commented that there will be changes in WHIP for fiscal year 2011 as program policy requires that ranking pools be based on habitat types or species of concern. He stated that the Lesser Prairie Chicken, Bobwhite Quail, and Greater Prairie Chicken are identified as significant in the State Wildlife Plan, and that Riparian Habitat and Savannah Restoration were identified as significant during previous meetings.

A question was asked why CREP was not mentioned as the Conservation Commission has been leveraging state resources toward this project, and Kenneth responded that this is not a project that NRCS is in charge of. Rod Wanger of FSA reported that they have been working with OCC on CREP with the Eucha Spavinaw project and they are looking at the Sugar Creek area also. It was also asked if FSA anticipates enough funding to keep it going, and Rod replied that the funding is available.

Suzanne Collier, NRCS: Suzanne Collier reported that the Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) was approved for Oklahoma in 2009 to protect endangered species. It is being offered in 5 counties: Ottawa, Adair, Cherokee, Sequoyah, and Delaware, and is targeting the Big Eared Bat. The enrollment options are: Permanent Easement, 30-Year Easement, 10-Year Cost-Share Agreement, and 30-Year Contract (Indian-owned land only). Suzanne stated that when the final rule came out, a 30-Year Contract was offered, open to tribal land or an individual Indian landowner. She also stated that HFRP is a continuous signup with different ranking periods, and this period expires on July 31st. Allocations for fiscal year 2010 include a $2.3 million carry-over from fiscal year 2009, a $1.2 million new allocation, and a $1 million second allocation, for a total of $4.5 million dollars for the program. Suzanne reported that as of this date, 39 applications have been received, and one offer has been accepted, surveyed, and is ready for closing. She stated that 3 landowners withdrew their applications, two offers have been extended, two will be sent to landowners in August, and two are on hold for guidance regarding Indian-owned land. Suzanne also provided that 14 applications have been ranked and pre-approved, and due diligence is underway with appraisals. Suzanne expects at least 50% of offers made to be accepted, and offers are for 400, 500, and 1,000 acres.

For the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), Suzanne stated that NRCS never receives enough funding to run the program. An initial allocation was received for $1.8 million dollars, and an additional allocation of $1.2 million was received which is designated to fund a large easement application. For fiscal year 2010, two easement offers were approved on 3,450 acres, and four rental contracts on 1,320 acres. For fiscal year 2011, Suzanne requested input from the State Technical Committee for the following:
• Ranking criteria;
• Eligible restoration practices and cost-share to be offered;
• Geographic Area Rate Caps for easement compensation;
• State level special projects or initiatives;
• Other technical input – i.e. long-term monitoring procedures, criteria, consideration of any waivers of national policy or guidance, and grassland resource concerns;
• Outreach advice, disseminating program information.

Suzanne provided maps in her handout, showing counties with the most potential or actual threat from Urban Development/Fragmentation and the counties with Wind Power Potential.

Suzanne reported that the purpose of the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) is to assist cooperating entities with the purchase of conservation easements for the purpose of protecting the agricultural use and related conservation values of the land by limiting non-agricultural uses. Suzanne stated that the Interim Final Rule for FRPP was published on January 16, 2009, and reported that the fiscal year 2010 allocation was $1,215,414. Suzanne provided that one organization submitted an application for 3 parcels with a request of $275,000, on 379.2 acres, and work is being done to complete this Cooperative Agreement. The remainder of FRPP funds was returned to the national office for use by other states.

Suzanne requested input from the State Technical Committee on ranking criteria and the State FRPP Plan (including areas of emphasis, critical needs, consideration of any waivers of national policy or guidance, etc.).

Terry Bidwell asked if a landowner could enroll in both CSP and GRP, and the reply was given that if a land is already protected under another program, it is not eligible; there can be no double-dipping or duplicative payments.

Melanie Oliver, NRCS: Melanie stated that the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring eligible land from agricultural production. She reported that currently Oklahoma has acquired 246 contracts for 54,938 acres, and in fiscal year 2009 funded 13 contracts for 2,775 acres that are in the closing stage of the easement acquisition process. For fiscal year 2010, offers are being made to landowners for 26 applications encompassing approximately 4,000 acres at a $4 million dollar easement cost. Other funding expended in fiscal year 2010 was for:
• Repairs - $260,000
• Enhancements - $42,000
• Restoration - $800,000
• Agreements (Monitoring, Research, Maintenance) - $130,000.

An agreement with OSU is being completed for WRP Monitoring. The Red Slough in McCurtain County is the largest WRP which was acquired in 1996. More interest in WRP is being shown in the northeast part of the state.

For fiscal year 2011, 22 applications are on the backlog list for 7,425 acres and approximately $8.1 million dollars. A new, final WRP manual should be received in the near future, there will be new/updated ranking tools developed for each enrollment type, and new/updated Geographical Rate Caps.

Steve Barner, NRCS: Steve Barner stated that the objective of WRP is to purchase conservation easements or cost-share agreements with willing owners of eligible land to protect, restore, and enhance the functions and values of the wetland ecosystem. The purpose is to attain habitat for migratory birds, wetland dependent wildlife, and endangered species.

Conservation practices for WRP include:
• Hydrology Restoration;
• Bottomland Hardwood Re-establishment;
• Native Grass Re-establishment;
• Macro and Micro-Topography Features;
• Fence;
• Critical Area Planting;
• Prescribed Burning;
• Moist Soils Management;
• Repair.

Steve reported that the #1 problem at WRP sites is beaver. He stated that trees planted in the year 2000 are already 20’ high, and that NRCS has accomplished approximately 12,000 acres of tree planting, usually beginning with bare root seedlings. Native grass plantings have been established using Kanalow Switchgrass and Eastern Gamagrass in an effort to put topography back on the site. Turf reinforced mats and prescribed burning have also been used in the wetland units themselves. Steve showed the group slides of various WRP sites in Kay, Lincoln, and Okfuskee counties.

Richard Zetterberg commented that there are a lot of opportunities now to enroll in WRP, and if anyone in this group knows an interested person, please inform NRCS. Mr. Carter asked about counties such as Beaver County being maxed out on CRP and not eligible for WRP? Richard replied that a lot would depend on the CRP general signup, and Steve Barner replied that NRCS would love to enroll the Playa Lakes if possible; he stated that NRCS would be interested in anything within the Playa Lakes Joint Venture.<Back to agenda>

5. INPUT FOR FY 2011 PROGRAMS/QUESTIONS –RICHARD ZETTERBERG, NRCS

Richard Zetterberg stated that he thought more applications would be received for the State CIG. He will attend training next week on CIG and asked if there were any suggestions/comments. A statement was made that CIG is a good idea and NRCS may need to offer it again to provide this opportunity as a producer who did not understand the requirements contacted another agency.

Richard also commented on the WHIP regarding how NRCS is looking at having the ODWC technicians writing plans, etc. instead of being involved with NRCS contracting duties. Richard stated that the landowner may be required to already have a wildlife habitat plan to enroll in the program. A comment was made that this would be a very real advantage so that the landowner would have a better idea of the program. It was also asked who would determine who would approve a plan and would they be approved by the Conservation District Board, and this will have to be determined by NRCS/ODWC/OSU. Richard also commented that the EQIP Quail Habitat Restoration Initiative is a good model to shift WHIP to. Richard then stated that Roy Lee Lindsey had contacted him regarding adding in vessel composters to the cost share list. As Mr. Lindsey could not be in attendance at this meeting, Richard introduced Rick Maloney to address the group concerning this issue.

Rick Maloney, OK Pork Council: Mr. Maloney asked that in vessel composters be considered for use in the EQIP. Mr. Maloney reported that the composters are closed units that are handled at the farm level, and that Biosecurity is the main driver for farms opting to install the composter. Mr. Maloney feels this may fit within the scope of the EQIP, and it would be a tremendous service to the pork industry. A question was raised about the cost of the composter, and Mr. Maloney reported there are various kinds of composters with a wide array of costs; he stated it could cost $15,000 - $35,000 for a unit. He reported this would be a tremendous asset for the producer and the break-even time is estimated as two years. It was asked if he could visit with the U.S. Composting Council, and if there are other types of composters available? Bin composters are already offered; however, NRCS is open to learning about other types; the Pork Council likes the “closed” type of in vessel composter. It was asked if this is in line with CIG, and Richard replied that it was not at this time. Richard also provided that NRCS has already determined this will meet our practice standard, but the question is at what payment rate? It was asked if this provides additional environmental benefits and if it should be paid at a higher rate than the bin composter? A comment was made that this should be paid at the upper level. A comment was made that from an environmental standpoint, a closed system would provide greater benefit. Kevin Cook stated that these cost twice as much, but there is a lot less maintenance. A comment was made that the OK Composting Council could look at the in vessel versus other types as the members are USDA researchers, and look at different types of composters for other livestock, which if turned appropriately, there is no odor. Mike Thralls commented that he thinks this is something USDA should pursue. Ron Hilliard stated we may need to tie the size of the operation to it during a certain period of time, and need to set up a range and an average cost. He commented that any assistance the Pork Council can provide will be appreciated.

Richard discussed the EQIP Manure Transfer which was paid as an incentive payment. He stated that the 2008 Farm Bill did away with incentive payments, and the Commission had the same program. Richard believes that USDA has met the objective for this and could maybe let it go and asked for comments. There were no comments made on the Manure Transfer program.

Jean Steiner asked about exploring partnerships to monitor, and if we are monitoring when converting to No-Till or when CRPs are coming out. It was stated that for WHIP, ODWC does a wildlife appraisal the last year of a contract, and there is an agreement with OSU to monitor WRP. Jean believes we need to get this more into EQIP.

It was asked whether we use compost to restore highly eroded lands which will add value to land and farms, and the reply was that at this time, a payment is not available to composting. It was reported that NRCS under Nutrient Management does have a practice standard for composting, but have not paid on it. Richard stated there is no reason NRCS could not do it, and it may fit under the Organic Initiative. The comment was made that it would benefit water quality in Oklahoma, and something like this is being worked on in Woodward. Kenneth Hitch responded that NRCS does not cost-share for production practices; however, this could certainly be reviewed.

John Hendrix asked about some areas of the state where county roads could be closed if work could be done with the County Commissioners, and Kenneth Hitch replied that if they are publicly owned areas, NRCS could not do this under WHIP, but it would not be impossible in EQIP.<Back to agenda>

6. CLOSING REMARKS – RON HILLIARD, NRCS

Ron Hilliard commented that Oklahoma has the ear of Washington, D.C. He stated that the Secretary of Agriculture and the Deputy Secretary were recently in the state as we are receiving a large amount of funding in Oklahoma. Ron reported that Oklahoma is in the top 2 of ARRA projects, and this is a direct effect of what this State Technical Committee does. Ron asked that members of this committee lobby for what they want to see happen and to be excited about the work that is going on in Oklahoma.

Cletus Carter commented that he feels this Committee does very important work and as he has been on the recipient’s end, he is very appreciative of what is going on in Oklahoma! <Back to agenda>


Last Reviewed/Modified: 08/12/2010

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