New conservation initiative goes beyond traditional government efforts
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the launch of what he calls “a new era in American conservation efforts” with an 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. RCPP streamlines conservation efforts by combining four programs (the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion) into one.
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.
“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 Nevada,” said Bruce Petersen, NRCS state conservationist in Nevada.
With participating partners investing along with the Department, 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. Parts of Nevada are included in the Colorado River Basin.
Irrigated agriculture is vitally important to the economy and quality of life in the Colorado River Basin. The area’s water use is shared among 33 million people in the U.S., plus three million in Mexico. Faced with historic drought conditions and water supply pressures, farmers, ranchers, Indian tribes and other water users are in urgent need of accelerated conservation on agricultural lands. With this Critical Conservation Area designation, USDA will build on existing strong partnerships in the region to accelerate conservation efforts to address these internationally significant conservation issues. USDA will focus assistance on promoting soil health, improving irrigation, addressing drought and helping to promote sustainable use of water resources throughout the basin.
For proposals in Nevada, priorities include: 1) Inadequate Habitat for Fish & Wildlife – Habitat continuity and/or space. Bi-State sage-grouse range of Nevada into California. 2) Inadequate Habitat for Fish & Wildlife – Habitat continuity and/or space. Greater sage-grouse range of Nevada into California/Oregon/Idaho/Utah. 3) Insufficient Water – Inefficient use of irrigation water; includes surface water availability and conservation of groundwater in declining aquifers (statewide). 4) Degraded Plant Condition – Excessive plant pest pressure and wildfire hazard (statewide). For more state-specific information on RCPP, visit NRCS Nevada’s webpage.
“This program is a prime example of how government can serve as a catalyst for private investment in rural America,” Petersen said.
The announcement of program funding can be found here. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are dueSept. 26.
To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center. For more on the 2014 Farm Bill, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.