Daily Archives: March 10, 2015

Sportsmen-Led Efforts on Watershed Conservation Featured in New Report

TRCP unveils ‘Snapshots of Success’ highlighting collaborative local efforts that rely on federal funding

Discussions of water conservation issues do not have to be filled with gloom and doom drought scenarios or water pollution. So says, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in a new report released February 27 entitled “Snapshots of Success: Protecting America’s watersheds, fish and wildlife, and the livelihoods of sportsmen.” The report features prominent water conservation efforts from around the country led by sportsmen that are models of success in achieving on-the-ground results.

Projects such as those featured in the report share important characteristics and can be replicated for future meaningful success. In examining these success stories led by sportsmen and conservation partners, one clear theme emerges: locally led, collaborative efforts do work but they must have a broad base of support including federal financial and technical assistance.

“All across the country, sportsmen are improving their local streams and hunting grounds through projects designed to restore stream flows or enhance wetlands, but they couldn’t be as effective without the support of federal conservation programs,” said TRCP’s Center for Water Resources Director Jimmy Hague. “This report documents ten examples where sportsmen are having a real impact and the federal programs that make it possible. At a time when the threat of drought looms over a good portion of the country, it’s important to remember that sportsmen solutions are having benefits locally, which will accrue downstream with the proper support from Congress and the administration.”

The TRCP and its partners seek to educate elected officials and other policy makers about the importance of the federal role in prioritizing water conservation programs and maintaining a strong financial commitment in supporting local solutions that ultimately impact national priorities. The report highlights projects led by TRCP Partner organizations the American Sportfishing Association, Ducks Unlimited, Izaak Walton League of America, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited.

“Through the American Sportfishing Association’s FishAmerica Foundation, we strive to achieve balance,” said the foundation’s Grant Manager Ruth Jackson. “In the case of the Mississippi bayou, it’s balancing the survival of an endemic fish population while encouraging sustainable land use practices among ranchers. We are proud to support projects like this because incremental, on the ground improvements are what help to create healthy fish habitat. Our recreational fishing industry members and anglers nationwide can appreciate and benefit immensely from these conservation efforts.”

“Successful conservation projects need good partners,” said Mike Leahy, conservation director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “Whether cleaning up a polluted creek or restoring a large watershed, volunteers like local fishermen or students get a big boost from federal programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is helping Izaak Walton League volunteers clean up Beartrap Creek near Syracuse New York.”

“Communities continue to come together to solve real problems and invest in improvements that benefit people and nature,” said Mark P. Smith, deputy director of North America Water for The Nature Conservancy. “As these projects show, we can have a healthy environment, a healthy economy and healthy communities. By working together, from individual landowners to federal agencies, we can find solutions that provide real benefits to real people and communities.”

“Partnerships are at the heart of TU’s brand of pragmatic conservation,” said Scott Yates, director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project. ”Meeting the looming challenges to our rivers and fisheries in the West—including changing climate, drought and development—will take cooperation, not conflict. For TU, federal conservation programs have played a vital role in encouraging local stakeholders to work together to find innovative, win-win solutions to meeting our diverse water needs, from agriculture and communities to fisheries and healthy rivers.”

USDA Opens Comment Period on Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Interim Final Rule

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U. S. Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments on its interim final rule for the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), designed to help producers protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives.

“Since 2009, USDA has worked with producers and private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs. This interim final rule takes into account recommendations from agricultural landowners and conservation stakeholders about how to better streamline and enhance conservation easement processes, ” Vilsack said.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers ACEP, a voluntary program created in the 2014 Farm bill to protect and restore critical wetlands on private and tribal lands through the wetland reserve easement component. ACEP also encourages farmers, ranchers and non-industrial private forest landowners to keep their private and tribal land in agricultural use through the agricultural land easement component. ACEP also conserves grasslands, including rangeland, pastureland and shrubland.

Under ACEP’s agricultural land component, tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with USDA to purchase conservation easements. NRCS easement programs have been a critical tool in recent years for advancing landscape-scale private lands conservation. In FY 2014, NRCS used $328 million in ACEP funding to enroll an estimated 143,833 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through 485 new easements. In Florida, NRCS used ACEP funds to enroll an additional 6,700 acres in the Northern Everglades Watershed, supporting the restoration and protection of habitat for a variety of listed species, including the Wood Stork, Crested caracara, and Eastern Indigo Snake. In Georgia, NRCS used these funds to complete the Roundabout Swamp project by enrolling 270 acres of the Carolina Bay to help restore and protect the entire bay ecosystem to historic hydrology and vegetation.

ACEP’s agricultural land easement component offers many benefits to landowners and citizens. The easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Other benefits include environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.

Under ACEP’s wetland component, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect and enhance wetlands through the purchase of wetland reserve easements. NRCS helps restore, protect and enhance enrolled wetlands to provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals; reduce damage from flooding; recharge groundwater; protect biological diversity and provide opportunities for educational, scientific and limited recreational activities. Under the wetland reserve easement component, eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts that are available only for lands owned by American Indian tribes.

The official notice of the proposed ACEP interim final rule can be found in the Federal Register. Electronic comments during the 60-day comment period must be submitted through regulations.gov. Comments also can be hand carried or mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0011, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-1112D, Beltsville, MD 20705.

Please visit the ACEP page or Farm Bill Program Rules page for more information on the ACEP statutory changes.