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Conservation Agencies Come Together to Address Issues in Kentucky’s Green River

John Graham, soil health specialist, explains about pore space in soil as landowner looks on.The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) have common goals when it comes to helping bring about the conservation and wise us of land, water, wildlife, and related resources in the Green River Watershed. For TNC Green River Watershed Director Michael Hensley, one just has to look at each agency’s mission statements to see the mutual interests.  He explains, “NRCS has a mission of ‘helping people help the land’ by providing resources to farmers and landowners to aid them with conservation while TNC’s own mission is to ‘conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends’ so it’s easy to see how well our respective missions and desired outcomes overlap.”

The two agencies signed an agreement in September of 2014 that brings both financial support as well as staffing support to ensure that USDA conservation programs administered by NRCS are effectively implemented and address conservation priorities within the Green River Watershed. The goal for the project is promote conservation planning and implementation directed at improving soil health and reducing the area’s agricultural impact on water quality within the watershed area.

There are a number of reasons the Green River watershed was selected for this project. “The Green River boasts one of the most diverse assemblages of freshwater life in the world and ranks among the top four rivers in North American with regard to biological diversity, with over 70 species of freshwater mussels and 150 species of fish,” Hensley said.  In addition to this, the extremely sensitive cave systems within Mammoth Cave National Park can be found at the very center of the Green River watershed. The Green River is also a major tributary of the Ohio River, which is in turn a major tributary of the Mississippi River, which in turn flows to and empties into the Gulf of Mexico.  “Conservation improvements we put into place here in the Green River watershed can have positive impacts well beyond the borders of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said.

Ashley Hand is the natural resource planner on the NRCS-TNC Green River Project.Earlier this year, a soil health field day was held in Munfordville, Kentucky and staff from NRCS, TNC, and the local extension office came together to provide conservation technical assistance to the 50 participants that attended.  To keep the momentum of the project going, a natural resource planner was hired in February of this year. Ashley Hand (pictured right) was selected for the position and her efforts will be focused on outreach efforts to encourage producers to adopt conservation practices in their operations through one-on-one visits and through soil health events like the one held in Munfordville.

Many activities are already underway as a result of this agreement. Hand has been assisting various conservation district boards with collaborative applications for USDA Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) and she has visited over 20 producers within the watershed region.

Hensley has also been working with several landowners in the upper Green River region to share information about soil health and riparian best management practices. One of those he's been working with is Homeplace on Green River. In November they planted 10 acres of cereal rye as a cover crop. On May 12th, the farm hosted a soil health workshop where John Graham, soil health specialist from NRCS gave demonstrations on the value of implementing soil health on both cropland and grazing land. To view pictures from the event, click here.

There is also a soil health workshop scheduled for July 20th in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The event will take place during the Ky. Association of Conservation Districts' Annual Convention and involve a panel of five landowners who will talk about their own experiences with practicing soil health by implementing no-till and cover crops. Click here for more information and to register for this event.

NRCS and TNC are committed to working together to reduce soil erosion, improve soil health, improve water quality, and enhance wildlife habitat through the Green River Project.  Bringing the common interests and the combined strengths of the two agencies will allow more to be accomplished in the Green River Watershed than either agency could have done on their own.

To find out more about the Green River Watershed Project, contact Ashley Hand @ ashley.hand@ky.usda.gov or visit http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/kentucky/placesweprotect/green-river.xml

To find out more about soil health, visit www.ky.nrcs.usda.gov and search 'soil health'.