USDA announces new landmark conservation initiatives
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that applications are now being accepted for new, landmark conservation initiatives created by the 2014 Farm Bill. The programs will provide up to $386 million to help farmers restore wetlands, protect working agriculture lands, support outdoor recreation activities, and boost the economy.
Vilsack made the announcement at Kuhn Orchards in Orrtanna, Pennsylvania. The farm’s owners participate in the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program, have worked to encourage pollinator health through planting practices, and used USDA program support to construct a high tunnel.
“By protecting working lands and wetlands, we’re able to strengthen agricultural operations, sustain the nation’s food supply and protect habitat for a variety of wildlife,” Vilsack said. “In addition, we’re providing states and tribal governments a tool to expand access to private lands for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities, which helps boost wildlife-related businesses and grows the economy.”
NRCS’ conservation efforts have helped mitigate the negative impacts of drought and are helping producers to manage the effects of climate change. The USDA agency enrolled a record number of acres in conservation programs that have saved millions of tons of soil, improved water quality, contributed to the national effort to preserve habitat for wildlife, and protected the most sensitive ecological areas. USDA has partnered with more than 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners on these conservation projects since 2009 - a record number.
In addition to protecting cropland and critical habitats, conservation strengthens outdoor recreation and helps boost the economy. According to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, annual United States conservation spending totals $38.8 billion, but it produces $93.2 billion of economic output throughout the economy - 2.4 times more than what is put in. This output takes the form of more than 660,500 jobs, $41.6 billion in income and a $59.7 billion contribution to national Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.
The new programs announced today are the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. Both programs have application deadlines in early June for fiscal 2014 funding. More information can be obtained at the local USDA service center, the VPA-HIP website, or grants.gov.
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