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Indiana NRCS accepting applications for Farmers Helping Hellbenders RCPP project

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Eastern Hellbender under rock

The Farmers Helping Hellbenders RCPP project is led by Purdue University with assistance from 14 collaborating public and private organizations on the state and local level including NRCS. 

Funding is now available to producers in the Blue River-Sinking Watershed to implement conservation practices on their land to assist with the recovery of Eastern Hellbenders and improvement of aquatic resources. This funding is provided through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and will assist farmers in implementing practices designed to keep nutrients and soil resources on fields and improve their watershed.

The Farmers Helping Hellbenders RCPP project is led by Purdue University with assistance from 14 collaborating public and private organizations on the state and local level including NRCS. Eligible producers and forestland owners who wish to implement conservation practices on their land should discuss their options with their local district conservationist. 

While NRCS accepts program applications year-round, Indiana producers and landowners should apply by Jan. 12, 2024, to be considered for the current RCPP-Hellbender funding cycle. Applications received after Jan. 12 will automatically be considered during the next funding cycle. 

Sedimentation is a major cause of hellbender decline.  Eligible practices for farmers in the Blue River-Sinking Watershed for this funding period include conservation cover, grassed waterways, wildlife habitat planting, nutrient management, riparian buffers and many others.  These conservation practices will reduce sedimentation while increasing available habitat for hellbenders, mussels, and aquatic macroinvertebrates. This project also will address nutrient loss, which is a concern for agricultural producers, and the targeted conservation practices and systems have been shown to have long-term benefits for agricultural systems and operations.

“Our partners are experts in their fields and understand the challenges in their own backyards,” said Indiana NRCS State Conservationist Damarys Mortenson. “Through the Farmers Helping Hellbenders project, we can tap into that knowledge to come up with lasting solutions that enable Indiana farmers and forestland owners to conserve the vital natural resources on their land while also protecting the habitat for hellbenders and other aquatic animals.”

The total financial assistance to landowners over the three-year project is more than $1.9 million and is available for agricultural lands in portions of Washington, Harrison, Crawford, and Floyd counties, the only remaining area in Indiana where the Eastern Hellbender can be found and is currently being actively managed.

“This project is the perfect opportunity for land managers to help an imperiled species, while maintaining productive working lands,” said Brianne Lowe, Indiana NRCS state biologist. “Hellbenders are particularly susceptible to sedimentation in the water.  Farmers and forest landowners that implement conservation practices can help improve water quality by keeping soil on the land and protecting aquatic nesting beds for the hellbender.”

Eligible farmers are encouraged to contact their local NRCS office before Jan. 12 to apply for the current funding cycle. This funding will enable producers to improve the health and productivity of their operations.  For more information or to submit an application, contact your local district conservationist by visiting www.farmers.gov/service-locator.