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Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its investment of $720 million for 84 Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects across the nation that will help communities improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. Three of these projects will be coming to Oklahoma in 2016.
Projects coming to Oklahoma are:
Improving Working Lands for Monarch Butterflies
This partnership lead by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will restore, manage and conserve wildlife habitat for monarch butterflies on agricultural and tribal lands. States within the project area are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. NRCS will invest $6 million.
Innovative Tribal Conservation and GHG Management
This partnership lead by the Intertribal Agriculture Council will address the need for conservation stewardship projects on American Indian lands. States within the project area are Alaska, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota. NRCS will invest $1.8 million.
Native Grazing Lands Protection in the Plains
By applying conservation easements and practices on the most intact native grazing lands remaining in Kansas and Oklahoma, this partnership lead by The Nature Conservancy will prevent habitat fragmentation and conversion to non-grazing uses, improve wildlife habitat and reduce the spread of invasive species. NRCS will invest $3.6 million.
“We put out a call for innovative and results-focused projects that will deliver the most conservation impact,” said Gary O’Neill, NRCS State Conservationist for Oklahoma. “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 Oklahoma, and across the nation.”
Projects are selected on a competitive basis, and local private partners must be able to at least match the USDA commitment. For 2016, 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, more than tripling the federal investment alone.
“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program puts local partners in the driver’s seat to accomplish environmental goals that are most meaningful to that community. Joining together public and private resources also harnesses innovation that neither sector could implement alone,” O’Neill 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.
USDA also invested in three Oklahoma RCPP projects in 2015. Partnering with NRCS, Oklahoma Conservation Commission and Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, these ongoing projects will assist farmers and ranchers with installing conservation practices in the Elk City Lake and Grand Lake watersheds and establish conservation demonstration farms in varied regions of the state.
USDA is committed to invest $1.2 billion in RCPP partnerships over the life of the 2014 Farm Bill. Today’s 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.