Basin conservation proposals sought

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Dave White announced last week that proposals for conservation projects addressing water quality and wetland conservation in the Mississippi River Basin are due by March 19.

Accepted projects would support conservation efforts already under way on agricultural operations in the basin, improve the overall health of the Mississippi River and help reduce hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is an outstanding opportunity for conservation-minded farmers to do even more to protect and improve one of America’s most valuable resources,” White said. “Working together, we can deliver more of the environmental and economic benefits of cleaner water to everyone who relies on the food, fiber and fuel produced by landowners in the Mississippi River Basin.”

Through this request for proposals, NRCS is providing up to $37 million in new financial assistance through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative for projects in 54 priority watersheds in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

These projects will compliment actions to be carried out through the new Gulf of Mexico Initiative, an effort that focuses up to $50 million in conservation assistance over three years to farmers and ranchers in priority areas along seven major rivers that drain into the Gulf.

Approved proposals will include conservation practices that prevent, control and trap nutrient runoff, improve wildlife habitat, restore wetlands, and keep agricultural operations productive. Examples of such practices are nutrient, residue and tillage management, crop rotation and tree planting.

A Request for Proposals, which includes a list of eligible watersheds and application addresses, can be downloaded at http://federalregister.gov/a/2011-33692.

This call for project proposals includes two new priority watersheds in Louisiana. The new watersheds will make the land between Mississippi River levees eligible for conservation easements in an area extending from southern Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico. The new watersheds are the Lower Mississippi-Natchez and the Lower Mississippi-Baton Rouge.

These watersheds start just south of the Arkansas border and terminate south of Baton Rouge. The two new watersheds will only be eligible for the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program. For more information on Louisiana’s MRBI priority watersheds, visit: http://www.la.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/MRBI/index.html

In addition to funding for new projects, $55 million in additional financial assistance from conservation programs is being made available to support more than 95 previously approved MRBI projects in the 13 states.

Federally recognized Indian tribes, state and local units of governments, farmer cooperatives, producer associations, institutions of higher education and other nongovernmental organizations are encouraged to apply.

For more information locally, contact Patra Ghergich, St. Mary Parish District Conservationist, at 828-1461, ext. 111.

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