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News Release

NRCS and Partners Usher in a New Era in Conservation

Rich Torpin
(402) 437-4061

New conservation initiative goes beyond traditional government efforts.


LINCOLN, May 29, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the launch of what he calls “a new era in American conservation efforts” with a historic focus on public-private partnership.


“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” Vilsack said. “We’re giving private companies, local communities and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations.”


The new conservation program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), was authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill and will benefit areas all across the nation.  The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region.


Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.  The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will be accepting pre-proposals from all eligible partners until July 14, and full proposals are due Sept. 26.


Craig Derickson, NRCS state conservationist in Nebraska said, “Local decision making is empowered through this program– bringing together conservation groups, cities and townships, sportsmen groups, universities, agricultural associations and others – to design conservation projects that are tailored to our needs here in Nebraska.”


With the help of participating partners, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program will leverage $2.4 billion for conservation. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.


“This is an example of government at its best - streamlining multiple programs into one more effective effort, providing flexible tools, and connecting local citizens and organizations with resources that best address their priorities, protect and improve their quality of life, and propel economic growth,” Vilsack said.


The RCPP has three funding pools:

  • 35 percent of total program funding directed to critical conservation areas, chosen by the agriculture secretary;
  • 40 percent directed to regional or multi-state projects through a national competitive process;
  • 25 percent directed to state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders.


Vilsack named eight critical conservation areas, which received 35 percent of the program’s overall funding. All of Nebraska is included in one of these, called the Prairie Grasslands Critical Conservation area. (see map)


According to Derickson, one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America is the native prairie and grasslands contained within the Prairie Grasslands region.


“This area is essential habitat for a number of wild game and threatened species, including the lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse. The region also encompasses the Ogallala Aquifer – an area facing critical conservation needs on working lands due to prolonged drought and aquifer decline. With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service will build on existing strong partnerships to accelerate conservation efforts and address these water resource and habitat issues. For example, in the Ogallala, partners will accelerate irrigation efficiency and water conservation work,” Derickson said.


For proposals in Nebraska, priorities include:

  • Air Quality Impacts; 
  • Degraded Plant Condition; 
  • Excessive/Insufficient water; 
  • Inefficient Energy Use; 
  • Livestock production limitation; 
  • Soil Erosion; 
  • Soil Quality degradation; 
  • Water Quality degradation, and; 
  • Inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife. 

More information is available on the NRCS website.


“This program is a prime example of how government can serve as a catalyst for private investment in rural America,” Derickson said.


To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit a local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit