TU applauds Regional Conservation Partnership Program improvement bill

Oct. 17, 2017) WASHINGTON, DC – Trout Unlimited, its 300,000 members and supporters nationwide, and its dozens of staff members who work with farmers and ranchers daily, applaud the introduction of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program Improvement Act bill today.

The bill is designed to make the Farm Bill’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, (RCPP), one of its best conservation features, even more useful for improving fish habitat and water conservation efforts. The bill is sponsored by Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Senate Agriculture Committee Rural Development Subcommittee Chair Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Trout Unlimited’s mission is to protect, restore and conserve trout and salmon fisheries and the watersheds on which they depend. In service to the mission, Trout Unlimited has vastly expanded its partnership work with farmers and ranchers over the past 15 years. Farm Bill conservation programs are a keystone element of this work.

Trout Unlimited has worked with producers from New Hampshire and West Virginia in the East, Iowa and Wisconsin in the Midwest, Colorado and Utah in the Rockies, and to the Klamath and Yakima Basins in the Pacific Northwest, to improve agricultural operations and stream health, putting millions of Farm Bill dollars to the ground efficiently and with broad benefits. Trout Unlimited matches Farm Bill funding more than dollar to dollar, making the federal investment go even further.

“We applaud the improvements this bill makes to streamline contracting and make the RCPP more effective,” said Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited’s vice president of government affairs. “It will encourage more partnerships with agricultural producers that result in benefits to ranch and farm operations, healthy watersheds, and secure water supplies for irrigation and streams in the West.”

The current RCPP program enables partnership conservation work to be conducted on a watershed- or landscape-scale level, a major innovation initiated in the 2014 Farm Bill reauthorization. The new bill would improve the RCPP by increasing the funds allocated to it, cut red tape and increase flexibility to attract new partners, and encourage innovation in addressing natural resource concerns, especially western water conservation. FarmBill_Handout_2017_draft_v6.pdf

The Western Governors Association’s resolution on agriculture, adopted in June, stated: “Western Governors support changes to Conservation Title programs that remove existing contracting barriers for western producers, and make the Farm Bill’s conservation title programs more accessible and relevant to western producers and their associations.”

This bill takes important steps to implement that vision.

“Partnerships with ranchers and farmers to improve large-scale irrigation systems not only make irrigation water supplies more secure, but they also conserve water and make rivers healthier — a benefit to everyone downstream,” said Laura Ziemer, senior counsel and water policy advisor with Trout Unlimited. “It’s encouraging that Congress understands the importance of continuing and expanding these partnerships that invest in water security in the West.”

In the Midwest and East, this bill will help small farmers and headwater streams, which sustain major rivers such as the Mississippi and Potomac, and the Rogue River in Michigan. The bill allows partners such as Trout Unlimited to bring Farm Bill dollars to small producers efficiently and at a scale that can make a difference to some of their watersheds’ most pressing problems.

“Reducing sediment and flooding in the Midwest, conducting riparian fencing and water quality enhancement projects in the East — these are the kind of projects with producers that RCPP supports,” said Jeff Hasting, Trout Unlimited’s Driftless Area Restoration Effort project manager. “In just one year of our RCPP we partnered with 48 different Wisconsin farmers to carry out stream restoration projects totaling more than $1,000,000.”

A 30-year veteran of working with Farm Bill programs, Hastings said such projects have helped restore the Driftless Area’s nationally-known trout fisheries while improving agricultural operations.

“And we will be able to do even more with improvements in the RCPP,” he concluded.

Moyer said he is hopeful that the bill will generate additional Congressional support.

“We are thrilled that such a fine bill has bipartisan sponsorship,” Moyer said. “We commend Senators Stabenow and Ernst for introducing the bill, and we strongly urge other Senators to consider co-sponsoring it.”

By Mark Taylor. A native of rural southern Oregon, Mark Taylor has lived in Virginia since serving a stint as a ship-based naval officer in Norfolk. He joined the TU staff in 2014 after a 20-year run as a newspaper journalist, the final 16 as the outdoors editor of the Roanoke Times. A graduate of Northwestern University, he lives in Roanoke with his wife and, when they're home from college, his twin daughters.