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USDA Results: Conservation

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

  • Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements.
  • Enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs over the past seven years, working with as many as 500,000 farmers and ranchers each year to implement conservation practices. Results include:
    1. 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.
    2. Used conservation practices [CRP and NRCS conservation practices] to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by over 416 million metric tons since 2009 [2009-2015], 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.
    3. 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 conservation planning and technical assistance on a total of 325 million acres of farm, ranch and forestland over the past six years. In 2014 alone, USDA provided assistance on almost 30 million acres.
  • Targeted $36.5 million to promote water efficiency and conservation practices in extreme drought areas of California and other western states, in addition to $5 million in Emergency Watershed Protection funds to address watershed impairments. As co-chair of the National Drought Resilience Partnership, USDA supports the long-term drought resilience efforts of states, tribes and local communities.
  • In 2015, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) committed substantial investments to help producers conserve water and mitigate drought on their operations by targeting significant portions of their yearly Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) allocations toward this effort. In California alone, more than $27 million of fiscal year 2015 EQIP funding was directed towards practices that benefit water conservation and resilience. In May of 2015, NRCS announced an additional $21 million in Farm Bill funding targeted to western states experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.
  • Implemented projects to improve air quality for the American people, such as replacing old on-farm diesel engines and managing dust. For example, in California, USDA partnered with landowners on nearly 3,200 of such projects, which are estimated to reduce emissions by an amount equivalent to taking 1 million vehicles off the road.
  • Protected permanently 2.3 million acres of private working forests through conservation easements (83%) and fee-simple purchases (17%).
  • Worked with private landowners, public land managers and other partners to conserve and restore wildlife habitat across large connected landscapes. For example:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.

Protecting Pollinators

  • Through the Farm Service Agency's Conservation Reserve Program, farmers and ranchers now maintain 169,000 acres of land voluntarily set aside to help pollinators.
  • 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.
  • The 2014 Farm Bill kept pollinators as a high-priority resource concern in NRCS conservation programs. NRCS offers more than three dozen conservation practices that can benefit pollinator habitat. In early FY 2016 NRCS announced the Monarch Butterfly Habitat Development Project and up to $4 million to establish and improve habitat. This monarch effort builds on a similar targeted honey bee effort in the Midwest/Northern Plains, and will lead to other natural resource benefits, such as improved water quality, healthier soils and more productive working lands.
  • USDA's Agricultural Research Service maintains four laboratories that conduct research into bee genetics, breeding, biology and physiology, with special focus on bee nutrition, pathogens and parasites, the effects of pesticide exposure and the interactions between each of these factors.
  • Forest Service is conducting research on pollinators while restoring and improving pollinator habitat on national forests and grasslands, as well as working with nations with which we share a border.

Wildlife Conservation

  • An unprecedented voluntary conservation effort with landowners resulted in the determination that both the greater sage grouse and the New England cottontail no longer needed Federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
    1. In the five years since it began, the Sage Grouse Initiative and its partners have invested $424.5 million and conserved 4.4 million acres working with 1,129 participating ranches in 11 western states. That's an area twice the size of Yellowstone National Park.
    2. Voluntary conservation efforts on private lands restored more than 4,400 acres of New England cottontail habitat.
  • In the 23 years since the listing of the Louisiana Black Bear, NRCS has worked with private landowners to voluntarily enroll and restore more than 215,000 acres of wetland easements in the prime habitat areas for the bears. Add to that more than 232,000 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program, as well as additional habitat management activities by these landowners in the 14 parishes or counties, and nearly half a million acres of habitat have been restored.

Improving Air Quality

  • Through voluntary and collaborative conservation efforts, USDA is improving air quality in the United States.
    1. In California's San Joaquin Valley, USDA is helping farmers significantly reduce combustion emissions from tractors and other equipment, improving the Valley's air quality. These voluntary emission reductions are setting a precedent for more efforts in the coming years.
    2. In just the past few years, NRCS efforts in the Valley have reduced emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), a key component of ozone, by nearly 7 tons per day -- equivalent to the NOx emissions reductions from taking nearly 800,000 conventional vehicles off the road.

Building Public-Private Partnerships

  • The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) works to improve the nation's water quality, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect open spaces by funding high-impact regional conservation projects across the country. 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.
    1. Through a first round of investments, RCPP funded 115 projects in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, addressing issues ranging from water quality to soil health.
    2. USDA is investing up to $225 million for a second wave of projects. Together, these two funding rounds will deliver an estimated $1 billion in USDA and partner support for critical conservation projects nationwide.
  • Through the Sentinel Landscapes partnership, USDA, the Departments of the Interior and Defense are working together to help farmers and ranchers near military installations 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

  • USDA is broadening our efforts to support the development of emerging environmental markets for carbon, water quality, wetlands and biodiversity – markets that can become an economic driver for conservation while at the same time generating new sources of income for our rural communities.
  • Through the Conservation Innovation Grant program, USDA is investing in cutting-edge projects that increase habitat for pollinators, develop new ways to attract private investment in natural resource conservation, give agricultural producers greater access to greenhouse gas markets, and help farmers and ranchers make their operations more resilient to climate change. Since 2009, 368 Conservation Innovation Grants have been awarded to support the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies. For example:
    1. 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.
    2. Through the Conservation Innovation Grants program, NRCS supported states and other partners 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.
  • Released COMET-Farm, a web-based tool to help producers calculate how land management decisions impact energy use and carbon emissions, in 2013.
  • Partnered with WoodWorks to train architects, engineers and builders about the benefits of advanced wood building materials, resulting in 58 projects presently under construction, and over $15.6 million in incremental lumber sales.
  • Released the National Insect Disease and Risk Map, an administrative planning tool utilized by thousands of communities and professionals to understand and plan for tree mortality hazard due to insect and disease.
  • Invested nearly $1 billion through grants, loans, and loan guarantees to support over 230 wood energy projects across the country to reduce reliance on costly fossil fuels, support rural economic growth and advance forest restoration. Since 2013, the Forest Service has also established cooperative agreements with 16 states to support Statewide Wood Energy Teams to increase the knowledge and use of wood energy.
  • Launched the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition, a prize competition in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and Binational Softwood Lumber Council to support a resilient rural wood products industry, promote forest restoration and retention, and foster sustainability in the built environment. In 2015, two winners were announced and received a combined $3 million in funding to support the development of tall wood demonstration projects in New York City and Portland, Oregon.

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 2015 alone, USDA treated more than 3.1 million acres to improve the health of watersheds, decommissioned nearly 1,300 miles of roads, and improved nearly 3,500 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 2015 alone, the Forest Service reduced hazardous fuels on 1.6 million acres in the wildland urban interface, sustained or restored watershed conditions on 3.1 million acres and resulted in 2.9 billion board feet of timber volume sold.
  • Published a new planning rule for the 193 million acres in the National Forest System lands 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, 32 national forests are revising or amending their management plans, including the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska.
  • Supported collaborative approaches to accomplishing work on the ground through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP). During the 5 years since the initial 10 CFLRP projects began implementation, the program has improved more than 1.33 million acres for wildlife habitat; treated more than 1.45 million acres to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire; treated more than 84,500 acres of land to achieve healthier condition through timber sales; and contributed to generating an average of 4,360 jobs per year. Moreover, CFLRP projects attracted new partners and built community relationships, leveraging more than $76.1 million in partner match funds.
  • Invested more than $100 million in Forest Legacy and Land and Water Conservation Fund projects across 24 states in 2015. 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. In FY2014 alone, these recreational uses supported approximately 143,000 full and part time jobs and contributed over $9.5 billion to local communities.
  • Maintained 53,128 miles of trails in 2014 that provide recreational opportunities and contribute to local gateway economies.
  • Helped support nearly 10,000 jobs and training opportunities annually through the 21st-Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) since 2014. 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 five national monuments on the Nation's public lands, Chimney Rock in Colorado (2012), San Gabriel Mountains in California (2014), Browns Canyon in Colorado (jointly managed with the Bureau of Land Management) (2015), Berryessa Snow Mountain in northern California (jointly managed with the Bureau of Land Management) (2015), and Sand to Snow in the California southern desert (jointly managed with the Bureau of Land Management) (2016) providing additional protection to more than 850,000 acres of extraordinary natural, cultural, scientific and recreational lands available for the American public to enjoy.