2016 Regional Conservation Partnership Program Awards Announced

2016 Regional Conservation Partnership Program Awards Announced

On February 12th, 2016, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and partners across the nation together will direct up to $720 million towards 84 conservation projects that will help communities improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. These projects make up the second round of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) created by the 2014 Farm Bill.  This is exciting news for the longleaf community, as four projects with a longleaf component were selected across several states including Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Florida. We are pleased for these organizations and are excited for the great work that they continue to do!  Please find a summary of the longleaf project winners below: 

Alabama

Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest

The Coastal Headwaters Forests (CHF) Partnership will address the natural resource concerns of the Longleaf Pine Range in Alabama’s Gulf Coastal Plain. Once stretching across 90 million acres in the Southwest, only four percent of Longleaf pine forests now remain. The CHF Partnership brings partners and resources together to conserve and restore longleaf pine habitat on private lands, as more than 90 percent of forest land in the southeast is in private ownership. This partnership is innovative because it is more than just easements; it will allow producers to conserve, restore and manage large properties permanently for longleaf pine habitat and threatened/endangered species in a way that benefits the economy and environment and create a model for other areas to replicate. By restoring longleaf pine, this project will preserve four major coastal river systems in the Gulf Coast Plain and protect habitat for the threatened gopher tortoise and approximate 600 other species related to longleaf pine habitat.

Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina

Southern Sentinel Landscapes Conservation

This project will protect and restore 17,500 – 21,500 acres of longleaf and other working forest habitats on private lands important for at-risk species. The goal of this multistate effort – Mississippi, Georgia and North Carolina - is to reduce the likelihood that target species will be listed under the Endangered Species Act and to demonstrate the compatibility of working lands management with at-risk species conservation.  These sites and species address shared conservation interests of the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Interior on proposed or potential Sentinel Landscapes. The proposed project advances goals of the Range-wide Conservation Plan for Longleaf Pine, the NRCS Longleaf Pine Initiative, and each state’s Forest and Wildlife Action Plans, while also contributing to military installation compatible-use buffers. By focusing on the overlapping interests of three federal Departments, this proposal delivers more measurable benefits to At-Risk Species than if the agencies followed separate paths.  This proposal builds on the RCPP award the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities received in 2014.

Florida

Everglades Headwaters Longleaf Pine

The Everglades Headwaters holds one of the most important collections of imperiled vertebrate wildlife in Florida and supports significant rare/endemic habitats such as the longleaf pine-dominated flatwoods and dry prairie. The project area encompasses 15,000 acres of longleaf as part of a mosaic of other habitats and agricultural uses. These habitats are an integral part of the "working watershed" of the Everglades by receiving, storing, filtering and slowly releasing rainfall to numerous creeks, and ultimately rivers, that flow toward Lake Okeechobee. This project will allow for continued productive agriculture (i.e., cattle grazing) and will help ensure the continued ecological integrity, function and promotion of water quality and quantity within this vital landscape and watershed.

Training Florida's Natural Resource Managers

Project partners will train both public sector and private sector natural resource managers to enhance private forestland management in Florida. NCRS will provide financial assistance to landowners and the Florida Forest Service to increase the capacity of resource managers to offer technical assistance to the 400,000 forest landowners in Florida. Resource concerns to be addressed include inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife, plant and animal health, insufficient water, soil health, and water quality degradation on the ten million acres of private forestland in Florida. Results will be demonstrated by monitoring the increase in forest management plans and practices implemented using Farm Bill programs. This project will provide technical assistance to private forest owners to increase the number of landowners with conservation and forest stewardship plans, encourage Farm Bill program participation, inform landowners of longleaf pine management options and increase participation in forest certification programs.