United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretaries Robert Bonnie and Michael Scuse pledged up to $5 million to state and local partnerships in six states for accelerating tree planting along the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The pledge was made at a summit in Washington, D.C. attended by leaders of Chesapeake Bay water quality restoration efforts.
"Improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay is a top priority of the Obama Administration, and USDA programs can help," said Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Under Secretary Scuse. "We're identifying creative approaches using our existing programs, so that USDA's partnerships with Chesapeake leaders can enhance our mutual goal of preventing soil erosion, improving water quality and restoring wildlife habitat in this region. That's good not only for future generations, but today's generation."
"Voluntary conservation practices made possible through the 2014 Farm Bill enable us to work with farmers who are interested in taking steps to ensure their practices help conserve the Chesapeake Bay Watershed," said Bonnie, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. "These conservation efforts help to clean our soil and water, boost outdoor recreation and provides agriculture with the tools needed to remain productive in the years to come."
The conference marks the start of an accelerated strategy of the Chesapeake Riparian Forest Buffer Initiative to promote the establishment of more forested areas, known as "riparian forest buffers," along streams and rivers of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, providing natural barriers that can filter sediment, chemicals, and other contaminants from entering into the waterway.
The USDA financial assistance will provide more incentives to private landowners interested in participating in the Farm Service Agency's (FSA) voluntary Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Each Chesapeake Bay state has a CREP in place, which collectively cover the entire watershed. To date, about $500 million in USDA financial assistance has been provided or obligated to farmers enrolling land in the six CREPs.
For 25 years, USDA has worked with the six Bay states (New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia) to improve and restore the Chesapeake Bay, with more than 7,000 miles of riparian forest buffers established by private landowners in the Bay states since 1996. In 2013, the CREP's buffers have intercepted an estimated eight million tons of sediment, 16 million pounds of nitrogen, and four million pounds of phosphorus in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
"Establishing riparian forest buffers provides better fish habitat, cleaner streams and a healthier watershed for the Chesapeake Bay," said Under Secretary Bonnie. "Forest buffers also provide wildlife habitat for terrestrial and aquatic wildlife."
"This is about more than just investing in a cleaner place to boat and swim," added Scuse. "The Chesapeake Bay is a food source that's an important part of the local economy. We need to ensure that the fish and crabs are abundant and healthy."
The Leadership Summit is sponsored by USDA's Farm Service Agency and is organized by FSA, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in partnership with a collection of private partners, including the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay and the Stroud Water Research Center.
Today's announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.
To learn more about CRP and CREP initiatives, producers are encouraged to visit their area FSA county offices or go online to www.fsa.usda.gov/crp.