USDA to invest in Prairie Pothole Region conservation effort for landowners:
GRAND FORKS — The U.S. Department of Agriculture will be offering as much as $35 million during the next three years to help landowners conserve grasslands and wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region, the agency announced Friday.
As part of the program, farmers, ranchers and conservation partners will have access to a mix of financial and technical assistance opportunities to restore wetlands and grasslands and help mitigate a recent regional trend of conversion to croplands.
“This region of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Montana provides critical breeding and nesting habitat for more than 60 percent of the nation’s migratory waterfowl,” Robert Bonnie, USDA’s undersecretary for natural resources and environment, said of the Prairie Pothole Region. “Our goal is to help landowners manage their working lands in a way that’s compatible with agricultural production and good stewardship of the soil, water and habitat resources of the area.
“So, we are really talking about keeping working lands working.”
The funding comes in a couple of pieces, including:
V Environmental Quality Incentives Program: The agency’s largest conservation program will help producers with expiring Conservation Reserve Program contracts keep their lands as working grasslands or hay lands through implementation of prescribed grazing and other conservation practices.
V Ducks Unlimited-NRCS partnership for carbon credits: USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is working with North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana to create a carbon credit marketing system for landowners who agree to avoid tilling grasslands. This work started in 2011 in North Dakota as part of a Conservation Innovation Grant, but now it’s being expanded to the three states. Through this system, interested landowners can keep their land in grass, continue grazing and haying, and generate verified carbon credits that place a conservation easement on their land. These credits can be sold or traded into existing voluntary carbon markets.
NRCS also is providing additional technical assistance to complete certified wetland determinations, needed by producers to meet conservation compliance requirements first put in place in 1985.
Dale Hall, Ducks Unlimited CEO, applauded the announcement, which is especially important in light of the continuing trend of reduced CRP acreage.
“We’re seeing unprecedented pressures to convert native prairie and drain wetlands,” Hall said in a statement. “We need to look for new ways to make conservation programs more economically competitive and attractive to landowners.”
For more information on these opportunities, contact a local NRCS field office or visit the NRCS website at nrcs.usda.gov.