USDA helps landowners implement voluntary conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, conserve and clean the water we drink, prevent soil erosion and create and protect wildlife habitat. Seventy percent of the nation's land is privately owned. Conservation of our nation's private lands not only results in healthy soil, water, air, plants, animals and ecosystems, it also provides productive and sustainable working lands. USDA support - leveraged with historic outside investments - helped support producer incomes and reward them for their good work.
Conservation work creates jobs in local communities. A 2013 study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation estimates that conservation activities supported more than 660,000 jobs. Conservation also provides an economic boost by spurring local tourism. Cleaner water and enhanced wildlife habitat provide additional opportunities for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. The outdoor recreation economy supports 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year.
Private Land Conservation:
- Enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs over the past six years, working with as many as 500,000 farmers and ranchers each year to implement conservation practices. Results include:
- Nitrogen in runoff from farm fields has been reduced by over 3.5 billion pounds over the past 6 years, or nearly 600 million pounds per year. Phosphorus runoff has been reduced by over 700 million pounds since 2009.
- Reduced net greenhouse gas emissions by over 360 million metric tons since 2009, or approximately 60 million metric tons per year. That is the equivalent of taking 12.6 million cars off the road for a year; or 6.7 million gallons of gasoline consumed; or more than 5.4 million home's energy use for a year.
- Worked with landowners on more than 850,000 acres to address high-priority wildlife objectives, such as restoring habitat for the Alabama black bear, Indiana bat, and Washington sage and sharp-tail grouse.
- Provided $266.5 million in financial assistance between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, which, along with over $116.6 million in partner contributions, has been used to improve and conserve over 4.4 million acres in core areas of the sage grouse range and working rangelands.
- Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, USDA began an initiative to help protect migratory birds 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.
- Helped conserve and restore more than 115,000 acres in Florida's northern Everglades through voluntary conservation easements that improve habitat for wildlife species and maintain working lands.
- Working 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.
- Quadrupled the USDA investment in water quality projects in the Mississippi River Basin since 2010, which in 2014 resulted in the delisting of two Arkansas stream segments that are downstream of Mississippi River Basin Initiative projects.
- Through the Conservation Reserve Program, 119,000 acres of pollinator habitat plantings have been established since 2009.
- Announced a new initiative in 2014 to work with farmers to use the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to enhance conservation covers to improve nutrition for honeybees and other pollinators.
- Collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey to develop a methodology to measure honey bee use of conservation covers and apply that methodology to assess the effectiveness of conservation efforts to help honey bees.
Building Public-Private Partnerships
- Announced the first round of Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funding to 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and Puerto Rico to improve the nation's water quality, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect open spaces. RCPP brings a radically different approach to investing in natural resource conservation and empowers local communities to work with multiple partners, farmers and ranchers to design solutions that work best for them. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA's $1.2 billion investment in RCPP over the next five years can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for innovative conservation work.
- Through the Sentinel Landscapes partnership, USDA, the Department of the Interior and Department of Defense are working together in overlapping priority areas near military installations to help farmers and ranchers make improvements to the land that benefit their operation, enhance wildlife habitat, and enable military training missions to continue.
- Invested $67 million in 28 multi-year projects across the country to improve the health and resiliency of forest ecosystems where public and private lands meet across the nation through the Chiefs' Joint Landscape Restoration Partnership, launched in 2014.
Fostering Innovation, Supporting Critical Research, and Developing New Tools
- Awarded more than 323 Conservation Innovation Grants since 2009 to support the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. For example:
- Working with Ducks Unlimited, The Climate Trust, and the Bonneville Environmental foundation, USDA helped ranchers in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota sell carbon stored in grasslands to Chevrolet. NRCS provided Conservation Innovation Grant funding to develop the methodology needed to quantify carbon storage resulting from the avoided conversion of grasslands. In November 2014, Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, purchased almost 40,000 tons of greenhouse gasses from ranchers to offset the company's carbon emissions.
- 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.
Caring for our Public Lands
- 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.
- Reduced the threat of wildfire for tens of thousands of communities by removing flammable vegetation, commonly referred to as hazardous fuels. In fiscal year 2014 alone, the Forest Service reduced hazardous fuels on 1.7 million acres in the wildland urban interface, sustained or restored watershed conditions on 2.9 million acres and resulted in 2.8 billion board feet of timber volume sold.
- Published a new planning rule for the 193 million acres in the National Forest System in 2012. The rule is currently being implemented, and will help develop land management plans that protect water and wildlife, combat climate change, fire, and pests, and promote vibrant, economically thriving communities. Currently, 20 national forests are revising or amending their management plans, including the Tongass National Forest.
- Supported collaborative approaches to accomplishing work on the ground through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. In 2014 alone, the Forest Service and its partners improved nearly 400,000 acres of terrestrial wildlife habitat; established more than 17,500 acres of forest vegetation; reduced hazardous fuels on more than 420,000 acres of forests; and made more than 210,000 green tons of woody biomass available for bioenergy production.
- Invested more than $180 million in Forest Legacy and Land and Water Conservation Fund projects across 25 states in 2014. The Land and Water Conservation Fund plays an important economic role for local communities. Recreation activities in national parks, wildlife refuges, forests, marine sanctuaries, and other federally managed lands and waters contributed approximately $51 billion and 880,000 jobs to the U.S. economy in 2012. USDA continues to call on Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Connecting Americans to the Land
- Provided opportunities for over 165 million visitors each year to recreate, be physically active, and support local economies through visits to USDA-managed National Forests and Grasslands. These recreational uses support approximately 200,000 full and part time jobs and contribute over $13 billion to local communities each year.
- Maintained 53,128 miles of trails in 2014 that provide recreational opportunities and contribute to local gateway economies.
- Helped support more than 10,000 jobs and training opportunities through 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.
- Designated three national monuments, Chimney Rock in Colorado (2012), San Gabriel Mountains in California (2013), and Browns Canyon in Colorado (jointly managed with the Bureau of Land Management) (2014), providing additional protection to more than 370,000 acres of extraordinary natural, cultural, scientific and recreational lands available for the American public to enjoy.
- In recognition of the unique role that the San Gabriel Mountains play in the life of millions of Los Angeles residents, Forest Service investments will be leveraged by the National Forest Foundation's $3 million San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Fund. The Fund will jump start critical restoration and stewardship projects on the National Monument and ensure that these projects address the needs of Los Angele' diverse communities.