USDA recognizes that conservation by farmers, ranchers and forest owners today means thriving and sustainable agriculture for our future. Seventy percent of the nation's land is privately owned and 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.
Working with Individual Landowners on Conservation
USDA provides voluntary, incentive-based conservation to landowners through local field offices in nearly every county of the nation. USDA helped landowners develop conservation plans and enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, conserve and clean the water we drink, prevent soil erosion and create and protect wildlife habitat. USDA support - leveraged with historic outside investments - helped support producer incomes and reward them for their good work.
USDA's landscape-scale initiatives are making impacts on conservation priorities across entire landscapes by working with partners and landowners to deliver results. Work in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the Mississippi River Basin, and Gulf of Mexico are among the initiatives that are applying the most effective conservation practices in the best places to increase agricultural and environmental returns. New science is helping to focus work in areas where we will generate 3-to-5 times the benefits of more general approaches - reducing problematic nutrients making it to rivers and streams by as much as 45%.
Promoting Good Health and Economic Vitality Through Outdoor Recreation
USDA-managed National Forests and Grasslands provide opportunities for over 165 million visitors each year to experience the wonders of nature and be physically active. These recreational uses also support an estimated 200,000 full and part time jobs and contribute almost $13 billion to local communities each year. Over the last two years, USDA has helped support more than 25 state public access programs and opened an estimated 2.4 million acres for hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities on privately-owned lands. Additionally, almost $30 million in grants, provided through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, will help promote an estimated 35 percent increase in the number of participating landowners and increase outdoor recreation in these states by 21 percent.
USDA has enrolled more than one million acres of private working lands specifically to protect habitat for duck, pheasant, quail and other birds through "continuous signup" Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) initiatives. Along with the U.S. Department of Interior, USDA established a Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation (FICOR) to improve recreational access to federal lands across federal agencies and proposed a special $5 million set-aside in the Land and Water Conservation Fund to improve hunting and fishing access to federal lands.
Developing Regulatory Certainty and Promoting Ecosystem Services
Since 2009, USDA has awarded more than 200 conservation innovation grants to support exploration of new solutions to conservation. Also, the Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative helps farmers and ranchers conserve the habitat of seven species with declining populations. USDA reached a historic agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide certainty to landowners who implement and maintain certain conservation practices that protect specific species. This enables producers to continue to manage their lands even if the species is later added to the endangered species list.
Working with the Environmental Protection Agency, USDA is supporting States and others in efforts to establish water quality trading markets. This demonstrates the potential for farmers and ranchers to receive new revenue streams while delivering cost effective results for industries regulated under the Clean Water Act. New greenhouse gas estimation guidelines and tools that assess greenhouse gas reductions and carbon sequestration resulting conservation, land management activities, and tree planting will also help farmers earn revenue for their work as they protect the environment.