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Secretary’s Column: New Approach to Conservation Creates New Partnerships, New Jobs

Patrick Graham, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (left) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday near Phoenix.

Patrick Graham, State Director, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona (left) and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday near Phoenix. The Secretary announced that 115 projects across all 50 states, will receive more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program. NRCS photo.

When USDA unveiled the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program last year, I said that this effort would pioneer a new era of conservation. As of today, the program is doing just that—leveraging an unprecedented three-quarters-of-a-billion dollar investment in projects to preserve clean land and water and create new jobs across the country.

One of the innovative programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program brings a wide variety of new partners together—from private businesses, to universities, to local and Tribal governments, to non-profit organizations and more—to develop their own action plans and to pledge their own resources to the project. Local organizations are in the driver’s seat, setting priorities and developing conservation projects that make sense for their communities.

Coming Together for Conservation: New Approach, More Partners. 1 - Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a new conservation effort that leverages partnerships to multiply investments and reach common conservation goals. There are 115 projects in all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. 2 - Multiple partners are involved in each project, leveraging their financial and technical capabilities. Indian Tribes + Nonprofits + State and Local governments + Private Industry + Water Districts + Universities. Priority Conservation Projects. 3 - Resource Concerns: Over 70% of project partners identified water resource issues as a primary concern; 24% focused on wildlife and agricultural and forest land. 70% water/%24 Wildlife and Ag Land. 4 - USDA is investing over $370 million. Partners contributions will more than double USDA's investment, for a total of nearly $800 million (estimated). More: nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill

This graphic outlines the effectiveness of the RCPP program, leveraging Federal and partner support. Click to enlarge.

The response to this new approach to conservation projects was overwhelming. Earlier this year, when local partnerships submitted their plans to USDA, they requested more than six times the amount of available funding in the first round. This incredible response is a call to action and it shows how much need there is for a program like RCPP.

From the first round of applications, we selected 115 of the most effective, most innovative projects from across the country to receive more than $370 million in the first round funding. Local partners will invest over $400 million more, for a total funding impact of nearly $800 million.

Leveraging our own resources by encouraging private investment in conservation means we can do more and have a greater impact than we ever could on our own. Since 2009, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has worked with 750,000 producers and landowners to implement conservation activities on 325 million acres. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program helps us to extend the impact of our resources even further. Over the next five years, USDA plans to invest a total of $1.2 billion through the program, leveraging an estimated $2.4 billion for conservation in total with the matching investment from partnering organizations.

Today’s announcement is just the beginning. Keeping the momentum going, we will soon take proposals for new projects. Another round of funding will be announced later this year, and USDA is working with new applicants to develop partnership plans that will enable even more worthy projects to be completed in the future. To learn more about the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and to see a list of this year’s projects, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov. For more information on today’s announcement, you can listen to a media call with Secretary Vilsack and NRCS Chief Jason Weller.

Location map for RCPP projects. Click to enlarge.

Location map for RCPP projects. Click to enlarge.

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