Vilsack announces $720 million in new conservation projects in U.S.

“We have seen record enrollment of privately owned lands in USDA’s conservation programs under this administration, and the new RCPP will be instrumental in building on those numbers and demonstrating that government and private entities can work together for greater impacts on America’s communities.”  

USDA and partner organizations will direct up to $720 million towards 84 conservation projects that will help communities improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability.

These projects will make up the second round of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program or RCPP created by the Agricultural Act of 2014, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who announced the new investments today (Feb. 12).

Through the 2015 and 2016 rounds, USDA and partners are investing up to $1.5 billion in 199 strategic conservation projects. Projects are selected on a competitive basis, and local private partners must be able to at least match the USDA commitment.

For this round, USDA received 265 applications requesting nearly $900 million or four times the amount of available federal funding. The 84 projects selected for 2016 include proposed partner matches totaling over $500 million, which should more than triple the federal investment alone in the efforts.

“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program puts local partners in the driver’s seat to accomplish environmental goals that are most meaningful to that community,” said Vilsack. “Joining together public and private resources also harnesses innovation that neither sector could implement alone.

“We have seen record enrollment of privately owned lands in USDA’s conservation programs under this administration, and the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program will be instrumental in building on those numbers and demonstrating that government and private entities can work together for greater impacts on America’s communities.”

Local knowledge, networks

He said RCPP draws on local knowledge and networks to fuel conservation projects. “Bringing together a wide variety of new partners including businesses, universities, non-profits and local and tribal governments makes it possible to deliver innovative, landscape- and watershed-scale projects that improve water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, soil health and other natural resource concerns on working farms, ranches and forests.”

Four of these projects will bring conservation to Mississippi.

  • Mississippi Grazing Land Management
  • North Mississippi Kudzu Project
  • RCPP Skuna River Watershed Project
  • Southern Sentinel Landscapes Conservation

 

“We put out a call for innovative and results-focused projects that will deliver the most conservation impact,” said Kurt Readus, NRCS state conservationist in Mississippi. “Our partners answered with creative, locally-led approaches to help producers support their ongoing business operations and address natural resource challenges in their communities, here in Mississippi, and across the nation.”

Water resources focus

Water quality and drought are dominant themes in this year’s RCPP project list with 45 of the 84 projects focusing on water resource concerns. 

USDA is committed to invest $1.2 billion in RCPP partnerships over the life of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (farm bill). The latest announcement brings the current USDA commitment to almost $600 million invested in 199 partner-led projects, leveraging an additional $900 million for conservation activities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

USDA invested $370 million in 115 high impact RCPP projects during 2015. In New Mexico, a RCPP project with the Interstate Stream Commission and an acequia—a local communal irrigation system—has addressed long-standing infrastructure failures to significantly reduce water needs by improving irrigation efficiency.

To learn more, see the full list of 2016 projects.

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