IT was touted as a new transformational way to leverage private and public dollars to enhance conservation efforts.
Now, with the first pre-proposals in for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), it seems that the country is up to the task of making that idea a reality.
An overwhelming 5,000 organizations partnered together to submit nearly 600 pre-proposals by the July deadline. Those 600 pre-proposals are now being considered for the initial round of funding through the innovative new conservation initiative.
RCPP was created by the 2014 farm bill as a way for private companies, tribes, local communities and non-government partners to collaborate and invest in cleaner water and air, healthier soil and enhanced wildlife habitat.
The program will allow USDA to partner with third parties or work directly with producers in watersheds and other critical conservation areas to leverage private-sector funding in order to maximize conservation investments.
"This program is an entirely new approach to conservation," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "By establishing new public/private partnerships, we can have an impact that's well beyond what the federal government could accomplish on its own, and we put our partners in the driver's seat, allowing them to find creative solutions to the conservation issues in their local areas.
"The overwhelming response to this new effort illustrates an eagerness across country to partner and invest in innovative conservation projects," Vilsack added.
RCPP will competitively award funds on an annual basis to conservation projects designed by local partners — including businesses, nonprofits, universities and federal, state and local governments — specifically for their region.
"The response from businesses, nonprofits, farmers and conservation leaders across the country has been tremendous — generating nearly 600 initial proposals to participate in the program," Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said. "This program represents a new and innovative approach toward conservation and will support the great work being done across the country, which will have a lasting impact on the health of our water, land and air."
USDA has invested more than $12.5 billion in farm bill conservation programs since 2009.
RCCP is one way the National Drought Resilience Partnership can support state, local and tribal efforts to plan and manage for long-term drought resilience.
USDA will provide $1.2 billion in funding for the program over the next five years and can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion invested in conservation. In the first year, USDA is making $400 million in funding available.
Through the program, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat and other related natural resources on private lands.
Additionally, USDA has designated eight critical conservation areas across the country, including: the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands and Colorado River Basin.