USDA, partners usher in a new era in conservation
Mark Habiger, Program Manager
New conservation initiative goes beyond traditional government efforts
Temple, TX, May 27, 2014 – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the launch of what he calls “a new era in American conservation efforts” with a historic focus on public-private partnership.
“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” Vilsack said. “We’re giving private companies, local communities and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations.”
The new conservation program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and will benefit areas all across the nation. RCPP streamlines conservation efforts by combining four programs (the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion) into one.
The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials into their proposed initiatives.
“Local decision making is empowered through this program– bringing together conservation groups, cities and townships, sportsmen groups, universities, agricultural associations and others – to design conservation projects that are tailored to our needs here in Texas,” said Salvador Salinas, NRCS state conservationist in Texas.
With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program will leverage $2.4 billion for conservation. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.
“This is an example of government at its best — streamlining multiple programs into one more effective effort, providing flexible tools, and connecting local citizens and organizations with resources that best address their priorities, protect and improve their quality of life, and propel economic growth,” said Vilsack.
The RCPP has three funding pools:
35 percent of total program funding directed to critical conservation areas, chosen by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture;
40 percent directed to regional or multi-state projects through a national competitive process;
25 percent directed to state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders.
Vilsack named eight critical conservation areas, which received 35 percent of the program’s overall funding. Parts of Texas are included in Longleaf Pine Range and Prairie Grasslands.
Longleaf pine forests once encompassed more than 90 million acres of the North American landscape and represented some of the world’s most unique biologically diverse ecosystems. In 2010, about 3 percent or 3.4 million acres of longleaf pine forest remained. With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships in the area to improve the profitability and sustainability of longleaf pine forest ecosystems. Conservation efforts will address invasive species, habitat degradation and water quality with a goal of increasing longleaf pine acreage from 3.4 to 8 million acres by 2025.
One of the most threatened ecosystems in North America, native prairie and grasslands contained within the Prairie Grasslands Region are essential habitat for a number of wild game and threatened species, including the lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse. The region also encompasses the Red River Basin and the Ogallala Aquifer—areas that are facing critical conservation needs on working lands from frequent flooding and ponding (in the north) to prolonged drought and aquifer decline (in the Ogallala). With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships to accelerate conservation efforts and address these water resource and habitat issues. For example, in the Red River Basin of the North, USDA, partners and producers will continue to build on conservation programs to support water retention and mitigate frequent flooding. In the Ogallala, partners will accelerate irrigation efficiency and water conservation work.
“This program is a prime example of how government can serve as a catalyst for private investment in rural America,” Salinas said.
For Texas proposals, priorities include: water quantity, water quality, soil health, plant health, and soil erosion. For more state-specific information on RCPP, visit USDA-NRCS Texas Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
NRCS’ announcement of program funding can be found at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/farmbill/rcpp . It contains many details on eligibility, the application process, ranking, and more. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are due Sept. 26.
To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.