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Conservation

Private Land Conservation:

Since 2009, USDA has enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with as many as 500,000 farmers and ranchers each year to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion.

  • Provided conservation technical assistance to over 640,000 customers on almost 44 million acres of farm, ranch and forestland in 2013, an increase of nearly seven million acres over 2012.
  • Implemented projects to improve air quality for the American people, such as replacing old on-farm diesel engines and managing dust. In California alone, USDA partnered with landowners to install nearly 3,200 of such projects, which are estimated to reduce emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 1 million vehicles off the road.
  • Through the Forest Legacy Program, administered by the US Forest Service, USDA has permanently protected 2.3 million acres of private working forests through conservation easements (83%) and fee-simple purchases (17%).
  • Working together with partners over the past decade, USDA has reversed the decline of longleaf pine and seen an 8% increase in longleaf pine acreages to 4.4 million acres.
  • Over the past five years, USDA has worked with private landowners and public land managers to conserve and restore wildlife habitat across large connected landscapes. For example:
    1. Helped conserve and restore more than 108,000 in Florida's northern Everglades through voluntary conservation easements that improve habitat for wildlife species and maintain working lands.
    2. Following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill in 2010, USDA began an initiative to help protect migratory birds away from the danger of oil-contaminated coastal marshes. In three months, USDA enrolled more than 470,000 acres in the program, providing new wetland habitat for millions of birds.
    3. Provided nearly $247 million in financial assistance between fiscal years 2010 and 2013, which, along with over $107 million in partner contributions, has been used to improve and conserve over 3.8 million acres in core areas of the sage grouse range and working rangelands.
  • Enrolled more than 60 million acres —an area of nearly 94,000 square miles— into the Conservation Stewardship Program to incentivize the most productive, beneficial conservation practices.
  • Provided new opportunities for farmers, ranchers and landowners to enroll more than 14 million acres of farmlands into the Conservation Reserve Program.
  • Enrolled new long-term contracts under the Conservation Reserve Program, including 473,000 acres of streamside buffers and 838,000 acres of wetland restoration practices. As a result, nitrogen and phosphorus in runoff from farm fields was reduced by an annual average of 602 million pounds and 121 million pounds, respectively, over the past 5 years.
  • Through the Conservation Reserve Program's general and continuous signup, 100,000 acres of pollinator habitat plantings have been established since 2009.
  • Implemented conservation practices to help producers improve the condition of soil, water, air, and other natural resources through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) on more than 70 million acres of agricultural lands. EQIP advances the voluntary application of conservation practices to promote agricultural production, forest management, and environmental quality as compatible uses.

Caring for our Public Lands

Over the past five years, USDA has focused on restoring the health and resilience of our national forests and grasslands.

  • Invested in protecting and enhancing water quantity and quality on our National Forests and Grasslands, where the drinking water of 60 million Americans originates. In FY 2013 alone, USDA treated more than 2.5 million acres to improve the health of watersheds, decommissioned nearly 1,500 miles of roads, and improved more than 4,000 miles of stream habitat.
  • Published a new planning rule for the 193 million acres in the National Forest System (NFS) in 2012. The rule is currently being implemented, and will help the Forest Service develop land management plans that protect water and wildlife; combat climate change, fire, and pests; and promote vibrant, economically thriving communities. In FY 2014, 11 national forests are using the 2012 Rule to revise their plans, and 6 additional units are conducting pre-revision assessments.
  • Emphasized and supported collaborative approaches to accomplishing work on the ground. In 2013, the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program improved nearly 400,000 acres of terrestrial wildlife habitat, established more than 15,500 acres of forest vegetation, reduced hazardous fuels on more than 277,000 acres of forests, and made more than 750,000 green tons of woody biomass available for bioenergy production.
  • Reduced the threat of wildfire for tens of thousands of communities by removing flammable vegetation, commonly referred to as hazardous fuels. In fiscal year 2013 alone, USDA treated more than 2.6 million acres of hazardous fuels, with 1.74 million of those acres occurring in the wildland-urban interface.

Connecting Americans to the Land

USDA-managed National Forests and Grasslands provide opportunities for over 165 million visitors each year to recreate, be physically active, and support local economies. These recreational uses support approximately 200,000 full and part time jobs and contribute over $13 billion to local communities each year.

  • Worked with other federal agencies and non-federal partners to lead the establishment of the 21st-Century Conservation Service Corps. The 21CSC will provide job training and employment opportunities for thousands of young Americans and veterans, protecting and restoring our natural and cultural resources while developing the next generation of conservation stewards.
  • During the period of 2011-2013, 2,790 participating landowners opened 1.6 million acres of private land to public access and improved wildlife habitat on 185,000 acres through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Improvement Program (VPA/HIP). Money spent by hunters and anglers using these lands contributed approximately $150 million to local rural economies.

Fostering Innovation, Supporting Critical Research, and Developing New Tools

  • Since 2009, USDA has awarded more than 200 Conservation Innovation Grants to support innovation in this field.
  • In 2013 and 2014, USDA announced successful results of three of its greenhouse gas Conservation Innovation Grants projects. Ducks Unlimited, Environmental Defense Fund, the Delta Institute, American Farmland Trust and others led these projects that have resulted in approval of protocols that reward farmers for positive environmental outcomes by generating carbon offset credits which they can sell on the voluntary, and eventually compliance, markets.
  • USDA supported states and other partners both technically and financially through its Conservation Innovation Grants program in their efforts to establish water quality trading markets. In 2014, the Ohio River Basin water quality trading project announced its first trades between farmers and utilities.
  • New science is helping to focus work in areas where USDA will generate three-to-five times the benefits of more general approaches – reducing problematic nutrients making it to rivers and streams by as much as 45%.
  • USDA released COMET-Farm in June 2013. This web-based tool helps producers calculate how land management decisions impact energy use and carbon emissions.
  • Partnered with WoodWorks to advance outreach and education to architects and engineers on wood solutions, resulting in 58 projects presently under construction in the first quarter, and over $15.6 million in incremental lumber sales.