USDA to Invest $35M in Prairie Pothole Conservation Efforts | TSLN.com

USDA to Invest $35M in Prairie Pothole Conservation Efforts

NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE, Huron, SD, February 14, 2014–

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plans to commit up to $35 million during the next three years to help landowners conserve grasslands and wetlands in the Prairie Pothole region, which includes South Dakota.

A combination of program offerings and partnerships will provide farmers, ranchers and partners with access to a mix of technical and financial assistance opportunities to restore wetlands and grasslands and help mitigate a recent regional trend of conversion of these lands to crops.

"This region, which includes most of the central and eastern parts of the state east of the Missouri River, provides critical breeding and nesting habitat for more than 60 percent of the nation's migratory waterfowl," South Dakota State Conservationist, Jeff Zimprich said of this important region.

The region provides vital water storage to reduce regional flooding and improve water quality, and it has tremendous potential to store carbon in soils and biomass, which reduces the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, one of the leading greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

"Our goal is to help landowners proactively manage their working lands in a way that's compatible with the soil, water, and habitat resources of the region," Zimprich said. "So we are really talking about keeping working lands working."

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The application batching date is March 21, 2014, according to Jennifer Wurtz, EQIP Program manager with the NRCS. "Producers and landowners who are interested in this effort need to visit their local NRCS office to find out more information and get signed up," says Wurtz.

The funding comes in a couple of pieces, including:

· Environmental Quality Incentives Program: The agency's largest conservation program will help producers with expiring Conservation Reserve Program contracts keep their lands as working grasslands or haylands through implementation of prescribed grazing and other conservation practices.

· Ducks Unlimited-NRCS partnership for carbon credits: NRCS is working with North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana to create a carbon credit marketing system for private landowners who agreed to avoid tilling grasslands. This work started in 2011 in North Dakota as part of a Conservation Innovation Grant, but now it's being expanded to the three states. Through this system, interested landowners can keep their land in grass, continue grazing and haying, and generate verified carbon credits that place a conservation easement on their land. These credits can be sold or traded into existing voluntary carbon markets.

NRCS also is providing additional technical assistance to complete certified wetland determinations, needed by producers to meet conservation compliance requirements first put in place in 1985.

For more information on these opportunities, visit a local NRCS field office or the NRCS website at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/ F

–NRCS