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Celebrating the Gift of Innovation

By: Sylvia Rainford and Ciji Taylor

Rangeland in South Dakota

Rangeland in South Dakota.

This month, we’re highlighting 12 important gifts given to us when we conserve natural resources: soil, food, plants, wildlife, people, health, protection, recreation, air, water, technology and future. NRCS’ mission is to conserve the full range of natural resources while exploring new technologies and agricultural concepts to change the future. We encourage you to give the gift of conservation this season!

As the nation embraces the holidays this month, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is thankful for farmers, ranchers and forest landowners that voluntarily adopt innovative approaches and technologies to improve natural resources on private lands.

NRCS uses several programs to spur innovation and influence future agricultural changes that strengthen voluntary conservation.

Innovation Grants Spur New Technologies

NRCS’ Conservation Innovation Grants program helps partners develop new approaches and technologies to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and quantity, improve energy efficiency, and increase producers’ resiliency to extreme weather and changes in climate.

NRCS has invested nearly $173 million to fund 414 national and regional CIG projects, funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, since inception.

Environmental Markets

Environmental markets are springing up across the nation to facilitate the buying and selling of ecosystem services and helping more private landowners get conservation on the ground.

In November 2014, NRCS celebrated a first-of-its-kind transaction—the purchase by Chevrolet of carbon credits generated on ranch lands in North Dakota.  Environmental markets such as this are often begun through the CIG program and can offer additional revenue for landowners generating ecosystem services through voluntary conservation.

Regional Conservation Approach

Created by the 2014 Farm Bill, Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) investments of nearly $825 million have already kick started 286 partner-led projects. The program leverages local leadership to establish partnerships that can include private companies, local and tribal governments, universities, non-profits and other non-government partners to work with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to develop and implement both landscape level and farm specific- conservation solutions that work best for their region.

NRCS’ RCPP project in the Pacific Northwest, Unlocking Carbon Markets for Non-Industrial Private Forestland Owners, provides financial incentives to help qualified woodland owners hire a consultant to prepare a forest management plan. Once they have a plan in place, landowners may also receive funding to help them do pre-commercial thinning, slash treatments, native shrub planting, and other conservation practices identified in their forest management plan. The Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF), a key partner in this project, assists landowners with technical advice and recommendations as they implement their plans.

By targeting small woodland owners in one specific region, this project aims to reduce the transaction costs for carbon credit trading, thus making it a more affordable and practical option for small landowners to participate.

As you partake of the delicious food and beverages this nation has to offer during this holiday season and throughout the year, please remember the farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners who make it all possible. NRCS’ gifts of innovative technology and approaches, such as cutting-edge conservation practices, make it easier for these producers to provide the foods and beverages we all enjoy.