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News Release

USDA Investing $75 million in Partner-Led Projects with Focus on Climate-Smart Ag, Equity in Program Delivery

RCPP AFA 2021_Projets 2

DENVER, CO Sept. 28, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest nearly $75 million for 15 partner-led projects to address natural resource concerns on private lands. This year, projects funded by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program’s (RCPP) Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA) focus on climate-smart agriculture and forestry and other conservation priorities as well as improving access for historically underserved producers. Three of the 15 are Colorado projects.  

“The AFA component of RCPP is designed for partners who are thinking outside of the box to address some of our most pressing natural resource challenges,” said Clint Evans, State Conservationist in Colorado. “RCPP is a testament to the power of partnership. By combining local expertise, partner resources, federal assistance and a shared commitment to conservation we can advance critical priorities and innovative solutions that are key to addressing the climate crisis.”   

As part of this year’s project selections, NRCS prioritized projects that supported smart strategies on working lands to help sequester carbon, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Several projects also had concrete plans for engaging producers from historically underserved communities.

Through RCPP, NRCS works with partners to implement projects that demonstrate innovative solutions to advance conservation priorities on the ground. AFA projects are partner-designed and partner-led RCPP projects that propose innovative uses of program funding to achieve conservation benefits. Through AFA projects, lead partners are responsible for contracting directly with eligible farmers, ranchers and other landowners to implement conservation activities on the ground. 

2021 Colorado Projects 


  • Lead State: SD
  • Partner States: CO, KS, MT, NE
  • Prairie Grasslands Region Award: $7,780,000
  • Project Summary:The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and partners will combine RCPP funding with over $14 million in financial assistance contributions to undertake a regionwide effort to preserve and conserve threatened grassland ecosystems in the Great Plains region. Through the project, farmers in the region will implement grassland restoration and prescribed grazing systems on over 1 million acres. An estimated 350,000 acres of grasslands will be enrolled in perpetual conservation easements. Project partners plan to estimate the carbon benefits of project activities, and to report on the project's economic and social outcomes. The partnership anticipates that NRCS’s investment will help jumpstart the regionwide approach and secure increased support for the conservation of Great Plains grasslands.


  • Lead Partner: Trout Unlimited
  • Lead State: CO
  • Colorado River Basin Award: $822,913
  • Project Summary: Trout Unlimited will restore wetlands and riparian areas while improving irrigation water management on at least five working ranches in three distinct tributaries to the Gunnison River. Extreme drought has impacted ag operations and wildlife populations in the area. These project activities will help producers conserve scarce water resources and support implementation of Colorado's Gunnison Sage-grouse and Cutthroat Trout conservation strategies. Project partners plan to use water sensors and wildlife surveys to report on project outcomes.


  • Lead Partner: National Forest Foundation
  • Lead State: CO
  • Funding Pool: State/Multi-State
  • Award: $5,714,286
  • Project Summary: The Upper Arkansas Forest Fund (UAFF) project intends to reduce the risk of severe fires in the Upper Arkansas River Watershed (in central Colorado) by treating a total of 13,500 high-priority acres. The National Forest Foundation and partners will implement forest restoration treatments on 300 private landowner parcels, covering more than 3,500 acres over five years. At the same time, project partners will treat 10,000 acres on adjacent public lands. Remote sensing and fire modeling tools will help partners report on project outcomes, measured by reduced fire risk and retained carbon storage capacity.

For details about all 2021 awardees, visit the RCPP website.

More about RCPP AFAs 

Farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners can participate in RCPP AFA through lead partners. For more information, contact your local NRCS service centers.  

First authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP has leveraged partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA, resulting in nearly $3 billion collectively invested in natural resource conservation on private lands. Partners are expected to offer value-added contributions to amplify the impact of RCPP funding in an amount equal or greater to the USDA investment.  RCPP projects range from a minimum of $250,000 to a maximum of $10 million.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis and conserve and protect our nation’s lands, biodiversity and natural resources including our soil, air and water. Through conservation practices and partnerships, USDA aims to enhance economic growth and create new streams of income for farmers, ranchers, producers and private foresters. Successfully meeting these challenges will require USDA and our agencies to pursue a coordinated approach alongside USDA stakeholders, including State, local and Tribal governments. 

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit