SALEM, Ohio — A new conservation program will allow private entities to partner with the National Resources Conservation Service to secure funds for state, multi-state, and critical project areas.
The USDA and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., unveiled the Regional Conservation Partnership Program May 27 in Michigan. It provides $1.2 billion for conservation programs outlined in the 2014 farm bill. Some $400 million will be available for the first year, with a five-year goal of generating an additional $1.2 billion through matching funds.
Potential partners include universities, state and local governments, nonprofits, grower and commodity groups.
Of the funding, 25 percent will be slated for state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders; 40 percent for regional or multi-state projects through a national competitive process; and 35 percent of funding will go to critical conservation areas, chosen by the agriculture secretary.
In Ohio, the critical conservation areas include the Great Lakes Region, and the Mississippi River Basin. In Pennsylvania, critical areas include part of the Great Lakes, and also the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, in a released statement. “By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the federal government could accomplish on its own.”
In Ohio, state priorities include soil erosion, soil quality and water quality degradation. In Pennsylvania, the priorities are inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife, soil erosion, water quality degradation, water quantity and excess water.
New York is most concerned with energy, habitat, plant and soil health, as well as water quality. And West Virginia is concerned with most of the above, as well as degraded plant condition, and livestock production limits.
Dot Harris, assistant state conservationist for programs in Ohio, said NRCS staff will be “looking at what partners are going to bring to the table,” as well as “the solutions that are going to be felt by the project.”
An applicant will be evaluated on the amount of matching funds, as well as what the project will accomplish and how it relates to existing projects.
Harris said the program is especially interested in new partners, innovation and new ideas “from outside of the agency (NRCS).”
The program and application package are available online at www.grants.gov, by keyword searching “Regional Conservation Partnership.”
Pre-proposals are due by July 14, with USDA staff expected to respond by July 28, to those applicants who should submit full proposals. Full proposals are due by Sept. 26, with project approvals expected to be announced by mid-October.
The USDA notes that conservation work is directly tied to clean land and water investments, as well as creating jobs in local communities.
Conservation projects involve building and maintaining infrastructure — building terraces in fields or restoring wetlands, which requires the hiring of contractors, engineers, scientists, and others.