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Published June 23, 2014, 09:35 AM

Farm bill enables collaboration on conservation

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a new farm bill effort that will expand partnerships and boost investments in clean water, soil and wildlife conservation projects.

By: Tom Vilsack and Dave Nomsen, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a new farm bill effort that will expand partnerships and boost investments in clean water, soil and wildlife conservation projects.

The concept behind the Regional Conservation Partnership Program is simple: To feed a growing global population in the face of climate change, we must ask a lot of our land and water resources.

Across America’s heartland, native prairie and grasslands are essential habitat for pheasants, quail and a variety of other wildlife species. At the same time, working lands face frequent flooding and ponding in the north and prolonged drought and aquifer decline in the Ogallala Aquifer.

Conservation efforts to address these water resource and habitat issues have never been so critical. But no single farmer, organization or government entity has the resources to take on these enormous challenges alone.

That’s where the Regional Conservation Partnership Program comes in. The program lets the U.S. Department of Agriculture bridge the gap between those partners and leverage more support for what works in conservation.

It lets nontraditional conservation stakeholders, such as companies and other for-profit groups, jump on board with funding and other support for conservation projects designed by local partners, like farmers and ranchers.

And the program builds on the momentum of conservation partners already engaged right here in the region, but lets them access more funding and technical support than they could on an individual basis.

This program is a prime example of how government can serve as a catalyst for private investment to help meet the specific needs of local communities. By elevating fresh, new approaches, offering support for proven, successful conservation efforts and bringing together a larger consortium of partners and monetary support, the program lets us more effectively accomplish our shared goals of keeping the land resilient and water clean.

Pheasants Forever provides a pair of great examples of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program concept in practice. Since 2003, Pheasants Forever biologists have worked in USDA offices to help deliver more than 4 million acres of private lands conservation benefits to local landowners around specific conservation priorities.

Likewise, Pheasants Forever has partnered with USDA on the Sage Grouse Initiative to work one-on-one with landowners across this iconic bird’s best remaining habitats to find a balance between conservation and ranching.

In fact, the new public-private partnerships established through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will have an impact well beyond what any federal agency could accomplish on its own. USDA expects to invest $1.2 billion in projects across the country in the next five years.

With partners investing alongside USDA, we hope to double that investment, leveraging a total of $2.4 billion for conservation.

We can’t achieve these goals without partners of all kinds — farmers, ranchers, private companies, universities, local and tribal governments and nonprofit organizations — at the table. Together, we will forge a new era of conservation partnership that more effectively confronts the growing threats to our natural resources and keeps our land resilient and our water clean for generations to come.

For more information, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.

Editor’s note: Vilsack is the U.S. secretary of agriculture. Nomsen is Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s vice president of government affairs.

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