When Burchel Blevins drives visitors around his rural Kentucky farm, he points out the numerous conservation practices he has implemented to protect and preserve his land. Blevins owns more than 650 forested acres and 70 acres of open forest and grass land in different parts of Knox County, and he’s worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for about 15 years.
“You learn a lot working with them,” said Blevins, referring to NRCS staff.
Using NRCS programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program, Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) and the former Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (now part of EQIP), Blevins has made many conservation improvements to his land.
He created snags and den trees to enhance wildlife populations and improve timber quality and production; established native warm-season grasses to benefit wildlife; planted a variety of grasses on a one-acre plot to attract pollinators; utilized patch clearcutting to create new and improved wildlife habitats that will provide an influx of annual plants and food sources; installed shallow water areas for wildlife and amphibians; and maintains wildfire breaks. And, he has more than 30 acres enrolled in a perpetual wetland reserve easement that takes marginal agricultural land and converts it back into natural wetlands.
Blevins work doesn’t go unrecognized. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife awarded Blevins as “Landowner of the Year” in Kentucky’s southeast region, citing his continued dedication to conservation maintenance, improving wildlife habitat – as well as improving education, outreach and recreational activities.
“This award meant a lot to me because I really appreciate the opportunity to do this,” said Blevins. “The land has been good to us and we can do the same.”
His conservation work is especially important in Knox County, which is a persistent poverty area targeted by USDA’s StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity. In StrikeForce areas, NRCS staff works with state, local and community officials to increase awareness of USDA programs and help build program participation through intensive community outreach and technical assistance.
On January 15, 2016, Vilsack announced the expansion of StrikeForce into high-poverty counties in Florida, Missouri, Montana and Ohio. Altogether, 970 counties, parishes, boroughs and census areas in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia are now eligible for "intensive care" through StrikeForce.
Farmers interested in learning more about conservation and land management practices, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.