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Published July 14, 2014, 09:29 AM

Renewing the commitment to conservation

The valley is one of the most productive breadbaskets of the world and home to critical habitat for wildlife and migratory birds, as well as millions of people living in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

By: Tom Vilsack and Colin Peterson, Agweek

As a nation, we draw strength from our forests, grasslands, farmers, ranches, rivers and wild lands. In the Red River Valley of the North, our 25-million-acre watershed spreads across a mosaic of farmlands, grasslands, forests and wetlands. The valley is one of the most productive breadbaskets of the world and home to critical habitat for wildlife and migratory birds, as well as millions of people living in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Yet, flooding and ponding, drought and extreme weather fluctuations are putting mounting pressure on the lands and natural resources in the valley. Every day, it becomes increasingly important that we work together to preserve and protect these resources so they are available to future generations.

Recognizing the importance of this region to the future food and natural resource security of our nation, we recently visited the valley to announce a new $50 million investment in conservation in the Red River Basin.

The funding, which comes from the 2014 farm bill, will work through existing U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program, to help maintain and enhance the basin’s landscapes by retaining floodwaters, improving water quality, restoring wetlands and enhancing wildlife habitat for the purpose of protecting and reducing the impacts to cropland and farming headquarters lying within the basin.

The Red River Valley is also part of the Prairie Grasslands Critical Conservation Area under USDA’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, also established under the 2014 farm bill, which hopes to invest a total of $2.4 billion in the next five years in local partner-designed and -driven conservation projects across the country.

Collectively, initiatives like these will help boost conservation in the Red River Valley of the North and boost the region’s economy in a number of areas, including in agriculture, hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation. The outdoor recreation economy alone supports an estimated 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year across the country.

Working together with partners across the valley, we can forge a lasting era of conservation partnership that will keep the land resilient and water clean, promote tremendous economic growth in our communities and keep the region productive for generations to come.

To learn more about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda. gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.

Editor’s note: Vilsack is U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Peterson is a U.S. Congressman for Minnesota.

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