NRCS Chief Jason Weller (far right) completes his tour of acequias in New Mexico at the oldest continuously functioning acequia in the United States – the Acequia de Chamita, near Espanola, New Mexico – in operation since 1597. With Chief Weller are (left to right) Gilbert Borrego, NRCS New Mexico Acequia Civil Engineering Technician; Kenny Salazar, President of the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts; and Bren van Dyke, First Vice President of the National Association of Conservation Districts. Photo by Rey T. Adame.
Last week, I visited with local communities in northern New Mexico. Many of these communities rely on irrigation ditches, called acequias, as their primary water source in an otherwise arid region. These are ditches that were used by their parents, and their grandparents, and their great-grand parents. Some acequias in the area date back more than 400 years.
Through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), NRCS is working with acequia communities and partners across the state of New Mexico to improve water quality, water quantity, and boost the overall health of these local irrigation ditches that so many rural American communities depend on. The Acequia San Rafael del Guique, for example, provides water for roughly 150 people in the Ohkay Owengeh and El Guique communities – it’s being revitalized as part of our RCPP project in the state. Read more »
An aerial view of mastication efforts to remove pinyon and juniper trees encroaching in bi-state sage grouse habitat on a Smith Valley rancher’s Bureau of Land Management grazing allotment, east of Minden, Nevada. The pinyon and juniper removal is part of an NRCS Sage Grouse Initiative project near the Conifer Forum field tour location. (Photo courtesy NRCS)
Bi-state sage-grouse, a geographically distinct population of small game bird that lives along the border of Nevada and California, rely on a healthy sagebrush ecosystem. One of the largest habitat threats to the sage-grouse is the encroachment of pinyon and juniper trees.
Once pinyon and juniper trees move into a sagebrush-steppe area, they act simultaneously like straws and umbrellas — sucking out what little water hits the soil, while providing a canopy to catch rainfall so little moisture reaches the plants and shrubs below the trees. Little by little, the trees can close in on an area, squeezing out precious habitat for the sage-grouse. They also deter sage-grouse from landing in the area, as the birds are frightful of these tall, foreign objects that interrupt their flight path and provide a perch for predators. Read more »
American Farmland Trust President Andrew McElwaine presents NRCS Chief Jason Weller (right) with a thank you card with more than 1,300 signatures. NRCS photo.
As a part of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the most rewarding part of my job is seeing and hearing about the impact our work is having on the communities we serve.
Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting with American Farmland Trust President Andrew McElwaine. He presented me with a card signed by more than 1,300 people thanking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and NRCS for the successful launch of the newest Farm Bill conservation program – the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, or RCPP. Read more »
The Vergennes-Panton Water District along Lake Champlain in Vermont was able to upgrade the city's water treatment plant with support from USDA. The Department is working through several agencies to help improve water quality in the lake. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.
In recent years, blue-green algae blooms have frequented Lake Champlain, impairing the lake’s water quality. Through a new partnership with USDA, nearly 20 organizations in the area will work together with farmers and ranchers to help improve water quality of the lake and reduce algae blooms.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources are uniting partners to engage and support farmers and forest landowners who use voluntary conservation practices that lead to cleaner water. Called the “Accelerated Implementation of Agricultural and Forestry Conservation Practices in the Lake Champlain Watershed of Vermont and New York,” this project will provide outreach to farmers throughout the watershed and help connect them with innovative conservation solutions for their land. Read more »
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. Read more »
Michael Brown shows the key places he and others at the NRCS work with ranchers and other partners to conserve and connect sage-grouse habitat. SGI photo by Deborah Richie.
When many different groups come together for a common goal, the impacts can be tremendous. That’s the case for the sage-grouse, an at-risk bird in the American West. Since 2010, over 1,100 ranches have teamed with the Sage-Grouse Initiative (SGI) and conserved 4.4 million acres across 11 western states, an area equivalent of 2 Yellowstone National Parks. The diverse partnership led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service includes ranchers, state and federal agencies, universities, non-profit groups and businesses that rally around a common vision of conserving wildlife through sustainable ranching.
SGI continues to grow and just over the weekend ConocoPhillips announced the company will invest $1 million to further strengthen the partnership. The contribution was made to the Intermountain West Joint Venture, one of the key partners of SGI. New funding will be used to extend the partnership through 2019 by providing $200,000 per year to support SGI’s Strategic Watershed Action Team, or SWAT. This team provides field delivery, science, communications and partner development support to SGI. Read more »