FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 27, 2014
Contact: Russ Schnitzer: (970) 309-0285 (West)
Jeff Hastings: (608) 606-4158 (Midwest)
Gary Berti: (304) 704-2731 (East)
Steve Moyer: (703) 284-9406 (National)
It’s a new and better day for fisheries conservation on the farm
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Trout Unlimited saluted USDA Secretary Vilsack’s announcement in Michigan today that the Natural Resources Conservation Service has chosen its first batch of Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) areas and is seeking partners and projects to fulfill the habitat restoration goals of each of the chosen RCPPs. These steps, taken together, are a great leap forward for trout and salmon conservation efforts on farms, ranches and private forestlands across the nation. Today’s action by the USDA begins implementation of one of the most important parts of the new Farm Bill, signed into law in February.
“We commend Secretary Vilsack, NRCS Chief Jason Weller, and the staff who worked so hard to move forward quickly on implementing the RCPP program,” said Steve Moyer, TU’s vice president for government affairs. “These regional programs will harness like never before the incredible power of conservation-minded farmers, ranchers and foresters with the innovation and can-do spirit of partners such as Trout Unlimited, states, conservation districts and others. It’s a great matchup, and America’s hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists of all stripes will reap the rewards.”
The demand for this work is great. Drought conditions threaten many producers for whom water supplies are already under intense pressure. Aging irrigation infrastructure has reached epidemic levels throughout the West, and the cost of retrofitting this infrastructure often exceeds the capacity of individual operators or even organized irrigation districts. In the Midwest and East, farmers are grappling with ways to keep sediment and nutrients out of streams in order to improve water quality and fisheries in downstream bays, lakes and rivers.
Despite their benefits, Farm Bill conservation projects have often been too scattered and limited in scope to provide substantial long-term benefits on a larger watershed or basin scale. The last two Farm Bills, in 2002 and 2008, began modest efforts to address this challenge by encouraging landowners and partners to work together on broader scales.
TU has long advocated for, and worked hard to achieve, landscape-scale solutions for the many challenges facing America’s fisheries and watersheds. This focused approach requires coordinating funding, science and partnership work—involving landowners and conservationists—on priority areas to achieve robust fish habitat improvements.
The new RCPP program is bolstered by substantial funding and equally important leveraging requirements. NRCS will spend $1.2 billion over the next five years, including $400 million the first year, and raise an equal amount from partners.
The program establishes three pots of money for grants: 35 percent of total funding will be divided among “critical” areas named today, including the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Columbia, Colorado and Mississippi river basins, the Longleaf Pine Range, prairie grasslands, and the California Bay Delta. Additionally, 40 percent of funding will go to regional or multi-state projects selected on a competitive basis and 25 percent to state-level projects.
Of the eight critical conservation areas chosen today, most include areas of great value to fish habitat, watershed conservation, and hunting and fishing opportunity:
- In the Chesapeake Bay critical area, TU will be able to expand its work with farmers in the upper basin in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania. In West Virginia, for example, TU has worked with farmers to build over 1 million feet of fencing along streams to manage cattle to better protect native brook trout streams and reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients entering the Bay downstream.
- In the Mississippi River critical area, TU will expand the exemplary Driftless Area restoration program in southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa. This initiative is one of the finest landscape-scale restoration projects in the nation, highlighted by excellent community, state, federal and volunteer involvement. Driftless Area stream trout populations often increase tenfold, from 200-300 to 2,000-3,000 trout per stream mile, after restoration work stabilizes eroding banks and restores vegetated buffers.
- The Columbia River Basin has been an epicenter for salmon and steelhead recovery efforts for decades, and ranchers and farmers are a big part of numerous locally based success stories. On-the-ground innovation in Washington, Oregon and Idaho is occurring every year in terms of water conservation and removing fish passage barriers to benefit Endangered Species Act-listed fish. TU will be able to work with long-time partners in places like the Yakima and Upper Salmon River to expand efforts in rural communities and implement a variety of conservation practices on key rivers and streams in the Upper Columbia River Basin.
- TU is excited that the Colorado River Basin was named a critical area, which should bring the type of focus needed to address the basin’s acute challenges, from drought to development. “TU is thrilled that we and our partners will be able to ramp up our work to conserve water and restore habitat in the Colorado River Basin,” said Russ Schnitzer, TU’s agriculture policy advisor. “Over the past decade, aided by our hard-working volunteer members, TU has worked throughout the upper Colorado River Basin with agricultural partners in rural communities to develop projects that upgrade irrigation systems and restore habitat on ranch and farm lands. These partnerships yield results that improve ranch and farm operations, restore watersheds and improve fishing opportunities.”
Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and visit us online at tu.org.