U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Robert Bonnie announces a new three-year, $328 million restoration strategy to improve water quality and help coastal ecosystems heal following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The strategy will guide how USDA will steer conservation efforts on private lands in priority areas of the Gulf of Mexico region. As Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, or RESTORE Council, USDA will work in partnership with the five Gulf States, other federal agencies, and landowners to explore opportunities for how the funding announced today can complement RESTORE Council and other funding from the settlement of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Bonnie announced the strategy from a working forest near Carriere, Mississippi, where the landowner has worked with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to adopt a variety of conservation practices to improve water quality downstream.

"We're working side-by-side with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to improve their operations while taking care of natural resources in the region," Bonnie says. "With most of the land in the region privately owned, working lands on the Gulf Coast are pivotal to the region's recovery."

As part of NRCS' Gulf of Mexico Initiative (GoMI), this three-year plan strategically directs existing and anticipated Farm Bill funds for technical and financial assistance through a variety of Farm Bill conservation programs to key coastal counties where they can have the best returns. From now through 2018, NRCS will help agricultural producers plan and implement conservation improvements to 3.2 million acres in priority areas, which ultimately result in cleaner water and healthier ecosystems. Assistance is provided through a number of Farm Bill programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

This targeted strategy focuses on improving and increasing water, restoring coastal ecosystems and leveraging local, state and federal partnerships in more than 200 Gulf-area counties and parishes.