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Kansas Technical Committee Minutes—October 26, 2015

Kansas Technical Committee Minutes
Natural Resources Conservation Service State Office, Salina Kansas
October 26, 2015
1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Attendees by Phone:

  • Chris O’Meilia—U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
  • Mike Disney—USFWS
  • Howard Miller—Cheney Lake Watershed
  • Louise Ehmke—Farm Service Agency (FSA)
  • Jaime Gaggero—Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE)
  • Ronald Brown—Kansas Association of Conservation Districts (KACD)
  • Rob Rescke—Kansas Water Office (KWO)
  • Steve Sorenson—Kansas Wildlife Federation
  • Jake George—Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT)
  • Joe Kramer—KDWPT
  • Bob Atchison—Kansas Forest Service (KFS)

Attendees at Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Salina:

  • Andy Burr—NRCS
  • Rod Winkler—FSA
  • Dean Krehbiel—NRCS
  • Monty Breneman—NRCS
  • Tom Roth—NRCS
  • Barth Crouch—Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition (KGLC)
  • Matt Smith—KDWPT
  • Carla Wikoff—FSA
  • Scott Willbrant—FSA

1.  Conservation Priority Areas

National Farms Service Notice CRP-796 requires a review of Conservation Priority Areas (CPA) and zones in preparation for the upcoming General Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Signup 49 to be held December 1, 2015, through February 26, 2016.

The primary purpose for designation of state CPA for CRP is to provide states the ability to identify areas of state resource concerns and give precedence to general offers within these areas.  Land offered under general signup within designated state CPA zones receives additional EBI points under N1C—Wildlife Priority Zones, if appropriate cover is selected (30 points) and under N2a—Water Quality Zones (30 points). 

The 2014 Farm Bill changed the limit of state designated CPA areas to not more than 25 percent of the cropland in the state, down from the previous limit of 33 percent.  Current Kansas cropland is 29.536 million acres, the limitation therefore using the 25 percent level will limit the cropland within designated CPA areas to 7.384 million acres.  Our current designated CPA areas contain 9.844 million cropland acres.  This means we have to reduce by 2.46 million acres of cropland in CPA.  Attached is a map reflecting the current Kansas designated CPA areas along with the associated cropland within these areas and the new cropland limitation.

Matt Smith, KDWPT, working with the Kansas Technical Committee (KTC) CRP subcommittee, developed a Kansas CPA proposal to update the priority areas for the next General Signup 49 and accommodate the change in cropland limitation brought about from the 2014 Farm Bill.  The map below is the final version of the proposal recommended by the KTC:

2016 Kansas Conservation Priority Area (PDF; 299 KB)

KTC Recommendation

Following discussion on the changes in priority areas and statewide acreages permitted acreage, the KTC agreed to recommend the proposal as is and expressed appreciation for Matt’s work in development.

2.  CRP Grassland Grazing and Haying Recommendations

On August 13, 2015, the KTC met and recommended the Kansas Grassland Priority Zones based upon areas needing protection and to focus enrollment through the ranking process similar to CPA areas for general enrollment.   During the meeting, a CRP Grassland PowerPoint provided a review of the programs primary purpose and highlights of the program.   In review:

CRP Grassland Program:

  • Purpose—Preserve and protect grasslands/grazing land
  • Alternative to conversion of grasslands/CRP back to crop production
  • Limits development and cropping use
  • Working Lands—permits grazing, haying, harvest of forage/grass seed following Conservation Plan of Operations (CPOs)
  • Rental Rate Compensation—not more than 75 percent of the estimated grazing value
  • Rental rates range from $15 to $30 in Kansas
  • Contract length will be 14 to 15 years
  • Cost-share assistance for fence, water development, water facilities
  • Eligible Land—land with grass cover, noncropland, or cropland
  • Ineligible Land—forest and woodlands
  • Signup began September 1, 2015, on continuous basis
  • First Ranking Period (November 20, 2015)—National ranking and selection process

National Notice CRP-792, subparagraph 9C, CRP Grassland Permitted Activities provides:            

For CRP Grassland, the following activities are permitted if specified in the CPO:

  • Common grazing practices, including maintenance and necessary cultural practices on and in a manner that is consistent with maintaining the viability of grassland, forb, and shrub species appropriate to that locality
  • Haying, mowing, or harvesting for seed production, subject to appropriate restrictions during the nesting season for birds in the local area that are economically significant, in significant decline, or conserved according to Federal or State law, as determined by the Secretary in consultation with the State Technical Committee
  • Fire suppression, fire related rehabilitation, and construction of fire breaks
  • Grazing-related activities, such as fencing and livestock watering facilities.”

On November 20, 2015, the new continuous CRP Grassland signup offers received to date will be grouped and ranked for consideration of acceptance into the program.  Acceptable offers will move forward with development of a conservation plan prior to approval of the CRP Grassland contract.  Completion of conservation plans will require NRCS to evaluate the forage resources and develop grazing, haying, and seed harvesting plans.  Applicants also have an option to develop a plan with a wildlife focus.

Although CRP Grassland is a working lands program, consultation and recommendations for land use criteria for conservation plan development to protect the grasslands and wildlife during grazing, haying and seed harvest was sought from the KTC.  The KTC made the following recommendations:

Grazing:

  • No wildlife focus plan selected in offer—no frequency limitation and no primary nesting season limit—follow the prescribed grazing plan developed by NRCS.
  • Wildlife focus plan selected by producer in offer—wildlife focus plan will include a wildlife biologist habitat evaluation to ensure prescribed grazing plan addresses local species needs.

Haying:

  • No wildlife focus plan selected in offer—no frequency limitation, no 50 percent of field limit, no primary nesting season limits—follow conservation plan recommended dates to hay.
  • Wildlife focus plan selected in offer—limit haying to 50 percent of field in any one year.

CRP Grassland Accepted within Lesser Prairie-Chicken (LPC) Action Area:

The KTC also addressed development of conservation plans for CRP Grassland offers accepted in the action area of the LPC Biological Opinion (BO).  Action area is 39 counties in southwest and west central Kansas.  The question related to whether the conservation measures within the BO limiting haying and grazing to outside the nesting season, 50 percent of field and frequency limitations as conservation measures within the opinion were applicable to a working lands program (CRP Grassland) when developed for a land idling program (regular CRP). 

The USFWS Staff were limited in their ability to comment or recommend due to current outstanding court litigation on the listing status of the LPC, but felt until the litigation is clarified, the conservation measures within the BO should be followed for CRP Grassland.  A recommendation was made suggesting agency representatives from the national office work on a more workable solution to either conference on an individual accepted offers or utilize conservation measures adopted for working lands programs for LPC such as NRCS LPC Initiative (LPCI).  If no other solution is considered, CRP Grassland offers in the action area will not be considered by landowners on working lands.  This will not protect grasslands or provide protection for the species.

3.   CRP Routine Grazing Frequency

Language within the 2014 Farm Bill released the states involved in the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Settlement Agreement, including Kansas.  States involved in this settlement were limited to the terms within the settlement agreement and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) which included the frequency requirements of one in three for managed grazing and routine grazing in Kansas.  With this change in terms, the frequency for routine grazing, which applies to all new contracts, can be as frequent as one in every two years.  

Background:

  • 2002 Farm Bill initiated management practices for CRP which included managed grazing and haying. 
  • The original frequency was 1 in 3 years.
  • In 2006, the settlement agreement with the NWF moved the frequency to 1 in 10 years for haying and 1 in 5 years for grazing on all new contracts approved after September 26, 2006.
  • On March 9, 2010, following completion of the environmental assessment and FONSI, new CRP contracts approved after this date the frequency was 1 in 3 years for grazing and haying.
  • The 2008 Farm Bill added new authority for routine grazing, replacing managed grazing on all new contracts approved after July 28, 2010, after completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, and permitted a frequency as often as every year.  However, Kansas, under the NWF settlement agreement, fell under the frequency as provided in the FONSI which limited frequency to 1 in 3 years.
  • 2014 Farm Bill released the state involved in the NWF settlement agreement including Kansas.  With this change, Kansas can consider whether to adjust the current frequency on routine grazing of 1 in 3 years to something either more or less frequent.  

KTC Recommendation

The KTC reviewed the frequency on routine grazing for Kansas and recommended Kansas staying with the current 1 in 3 years frequency.