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RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA) FY2020 Project Selections

Audubon Conservation Ranching Initiative

Lead Partner: National Audubon Society


Lead State: ND Partner States: CO, MO, MT
NRCS Funding: 3,250,000 Partner Contribution: 6,027,763


The National Audubon Society will build on a successful NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants project, expanding Audubon’s Conservation Ranching (ACR) Initiative, which works with private landowners to enhance ecological, economic and social outcomes with ranch management practices. ACR currently has 50 certified ranches spanning 1.7 million acres, and this project will enable expansion into AZ, IA, MN and UT, with a goal of enrolling an additional 100 ranches across 2.3 million acres. Performance-based payments will be provided to participating ACR ranches for practices and program activities including installation of prescribed grazing infrastructure, third- party certification audits and soil monitoring.

Black River Watershed

Lead Partner: Red Lake Watershed District


Lead State: MN Partner States:
NRCS Funding: 3,000,000 Partner Contribution: 4,234,000


The Red Lake Watershed District in the Red River Basin will continue implementation of its distributed water detention strategy to reduce harmful impacts of flooding on farm production. This project will produce new flood storage capacity of 4,064 acre-feet to reduce the extent and duration of flooding for agricultural land, improve operation of the District’s downstream Schirrick Dam flood control project, and reduce peak flood flows on the Red Lakes River at Crookston, MN. The majority of the proposed impoundment will be converted to natural vegetation, suited to intermittent inundation during flood periods. Outside of seasonal inundations and several small wetlands, this land will remain dry, and the permanent vegetation will provide significant habitat for wildlife, upland game, shorebirds, and migratory waterfowl.

Improving Forest Health Through Aggregation

Lead Partner: The Nature Conservancy PA/DE Chapter


Lead State: PA Partner States: NY
NRCS Funding: 2,000,000 Partner Contribution: 3,800,000


The Improving Forest Health Through Aggregation project will test a new forest carbon and easement aggregation model to a) enable the protection of significantly more forested headwaters properties than has been possible to date, b) increase the amount of forestland under certified forest management and c) ensure continued production of high-quality drinking water resources throughout the Upper Delaware River Watershed. This project aims to permanently protect 3,600 acres and improve the condition of these lands through forest management plans and best management practices. Key features of the pilot project that add conservation value include enrolling landowners in forest certification programs, connecting them to technical assistance and providing access to carbon markets.

Innovative Conservation: Vital Streams and Forests

Lead Partner: Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District


Lead State: CA Partner States:
NRCS Funding: 3,500,000 Partner Contribution: 3,500,000


The Sonoma Agricultural and Open Space District and partners propose a multi-objective project centered on the development of innovative riparian corridor conservation easements and source water protection forestland easements. The easements will preserve agricultural lands, help reduce regulatory burdens, restore riparian and forest ecosystems, improve habitat for at-risk and T & E species, protect source water (both surface and ground), and improve community resilience to extreme events including catastrophic wildfire and flooding.

Nebraska Forest Restoration Partnership

Lead Partner: Nebraska Forest Service


Lead State: NE Partner States:
NRCS Funding: 4,500,000 Partner Contribution: 6,227,900


The Nebraska Forest Service will develop a “forests first” effort to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration, windbreak renovation and tree canopy recovery throughout the State. The project aims to restore five percent of Nebraska’s threatened oak and cottonwood-dominated forests, renovate five percent of windbreaks in poor condition and recover 10 percent of Nebraska’s lost windbreak cover by facilitation of forest management on 30,000 acres of declining forests.

Recharge in the Upper Verde River Watershed

Lead Partner: Town of Prescott Valley


Lead State: AZ Partner States:
NRCS Funding: 2,710,260 Partner Contribution: 5,542,000


Water quantity, loss of grassland ecosystems and wildfire risk are critical resource concerns in the Upper Verde River Watershed of Arizona’s central highlands. Collaborating with local, state and federal agencies, as well as local resource conservation districts and agricultural producers, the Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition (UVRWPC) will manage a multi-faceted effort to optimize groundwater recharge across the watershed. Partners will integrate science-based planning and hydrologic modeling with monitoring and the application of innovative technologies to improve watershed health and support increased productivity on working agricultural lands. Partners will work with producers to apply biomass utilization technologies developed and/or tested over the last five years including juniper silt dams, juniper chip wattles, juniper chip wattles infused with bio-char, bio-char as a soil amendment and rainwater harvesting for aquifer recharge systems.

Scaling Soil Health in the Prairie Pothole Region

Lead Partner: Ducks Unlimited, Inc.


Lead State: SD Partner States: MT, ND
NRCS Funding: 8,732,740 Partner Contribution: 10,063,000


Ducks Unlimited proposes to harness a large partnership to implement agricultural practices that improve soil health for agricultural production, wildlife and society, and improve the management of water in a landscape prone to both flooding and drought. Targeted practices include the planting of perennial grasses, reduced tillage, integration of cover crops, expansion of livestock grazing, and provision of mentorship opportunities to farmers and ranchers. The outcomes data collection approach, developed by project partners, will measure conservation, economic and social outcomes on an anticipated 30,000 acres.

Sebago Watershed Protection Investment Program

Lead Partner: Portland Water District


Lead State: ME Partner States:
NRCS Funding: 8,000,000 Partner Contribution: 10,471,200


The Lake Sebago Watershed provides drinking water to one sixth of Maine's population, yet only 11 percent of this watershed is currently protected from development. The Sebago Watershed Protection Investment Program will work with landowners and local municipalities to protect 10,000 acres of forest, improve aquatic organism passageway, restore wetlands, improve forest management, control aquatic invasive plant species, and educate landowners. Success for this project will include maintaining water quality levels, protection of critical forests, and spatial analysis of biodiversity.

Soil and Water Outcomes Fund

Lead Partner: Ag Technology and Environmental Stewardship Foundation


Lead State: IA Partner States: IL, OH
NRCS Funding: 7,307,000 Partner Contribution: 3,740,000


The Agriculture Technology and Environmental Stewardship Foundation will incorporate an innovative pay-for-performance approach to compensate producers for water quality and soil health improvements using independently verified environmental outcomes. RCPP funding and partner contributions will create a pool of pay-for-performance funds used to pay for the verified nitrogen and phosphorus reductions and verified emissions reductions resulting from practice implementation. The project aims to support the implementation of conservation practices on 180,000 cropland acres in Illinois, Iowa and Ohio.

Vermont Pay-for-Phosphorus Program

Lead Partner: Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets


Lead State: VT Partner States:
NRCS Funding: 7,000,000 Partner Contribution: 11,941,050


This project will use a pay-for-performance approach to pay farmers statewide for voluntary phosphorus load reductions that exceed average reductions required for nonpoint source agriculture in the Lake Champlain Basin. The VPFP Program will reduce phosphorus loading by an estimated 40,000 total pounds over the course of four years, with an estimated 150 enrolled farms. Shifting the focus from payment for practices to payment for performance will make the value of phosphorus reductions tangible to farmers, empower farms in their conservation efforts and improve the quality of Vermont’s water resources.