RCP Program Brings Resources to Private Lands in Conservation Areas

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack launched the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a public-private partnership designed to focus conservation efforts on the most critical watersheds and landscapes.

The RCPP was a new program in the Farm Bill passed earlier this year. Under the program, local partners propose conservation projects specific to their region to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources on private lands.

Projects submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) undergo a competitive process, under which USDA will award $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program. Those funds can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners, for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. In this first year, $400 million in USDA funding is available.

Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, workers and materials to their proposed initiatives.

“The RCPP is not business as usual. Its bolder and more comprehensive approach makes the RCPP the most innovative new Farm Bill conservation program. It replaces the old approach sometimes referred to as ‘random acts of conservation’ to instead leverage private sector investment and focus on the critical areas where funding is most needed,” said Sean McMahon, North America Agriculture Program Director at The Nature Conservancy, who spoke at the event. “This is cost-effective, and will maximize important conservation outcomes such as improved water quality, water conservation, resilience to drought, flood prevention, air quality, soil conservation, soil health and habitat conservation, restoration and enhancement on private lands through voluntary conservation practices.”

Forty percent of RCPP funding will go to national, multi-state projects; 25 percent will go to state projects; and 35 percent will go to critical conservation areas (CCAs) designated by the Secretary of Agriculture. In Secretary Vilsack’s announcement, he revealed that these CCAs include the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Colorado River Basin, Great Lakes Region, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, Prairie Grasslands Region and the California Bay Delta.

“Targeting resources to incentivize adoption of the full suite of conservation practices in priority areas is essential to demonstrating that we can improve water quality in such large and important watersheds,” added McMahon. “We believe this program will bring new partners and additional resources to bear in addressing some of the nation’s greatest conservation challenges.

“We are grateful for the leadership of Secretary Vilsack, former Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White and current Chief Jason Weller for their efforts to get the biggest bang for the buck and greatest returns for American taxpayers,” concluded McMahon. “We also appreciate the efforts of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and others for their hard work to pass a Farm Bill that targets resources to priority watersheds and landscapes.”

Article by The Nature Conservancy.