WOODSTOCK, Md. — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Representatives Elijah E. Cummings and John Sarbanes (All D-Md.), U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller, Maryland Agriculture Secretary “Buddy” Hance and prominent conservation organizations today assembled at the Howard County Conservancy to celebrate the inaugural round of Chesapeake Bay conservation funding administered under a new Farm Bill program.
Speaking at the Gudelsky Environmental Education Center, Senator Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, lauded the Regional Conservation Partnership Program grants, which total about $19 million. “The Chesapeake Bay delegation fought incredibly hard to ensure the delivery of funding to communities throughout the Chesapeake Bay region through the Farm Bill,” Senator Cardin said. “The RCPP grants bring together conservation organizations, cities and townships, universities, agricultural associations and businesses to make decisions about Chesapeake Bay conservation at the local level. I am confident that we can help our farmers and our Chesapeake Bay at the same time. This RCPP funding proves it.”
“The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure that many Maryland families not only enjoy but rely on in a variety of ways,” Congressman Cummings said. “I am excited to celebrate the steps toward restoration that these new RCPP funds will allow us to take, but we have a long way to go before our work on this issue is done. I remain committed to working with my colleagues at the federal level to secure resources that will restore the Chesapeake, and keep it healthy and beautiful for generations yet unborn.”
“One of our greatest challenges in protecting the Chesapeake Bay will be to reduce runoff from the roads, homes and farms that cover the Bay Watershed,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “But with public-private partnerships like the USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program, we can provide local Maryland farmers with the resources they need to safeguard the vitality and beauty of the Bay for future generations.”
“As venture capitalists provide financial resources to burgeoning, high-potential growth startups, USDA must lead in a new venture conservationist movement that empowers and launches new, high-opportunity startup partnerships that deliver locally-led conservation solutions,” said NRCS Chief Weller. “RCPP puts our partners in the driver’s seat. Projects are led locally, and demonstrate the value of strong public-private partnerships that deliver solutions to natural resource challenges.”
The RCPP emphasizes cooperation between producers and regional stakeholders to work together to improve the effectiveness of agricultural conservation activities by leveraging non-government funds in support of conservation projects. The RCPP also focuses conservation funds on regions with the greatest conservation needs. Allocation of the funding is divided among a state competitive process (25%), the NRCS for projects based on national competitive process (40%), and projects in eight critical conservation areas (35%). In summer 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed was designated as a Critical Conservation Areas that is eligible for set-aside funding. Details follow on the recently awarded grants.
Accelerating Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plans – $5.5 million
Lead partner: Maryland Department of Agriculture
To meet a large unmet demand for conservation programs that will contribute to meeting the Chesapeake Bay TMDL, this project will utilize state implementation plans to accelerate targeted, cost-effective conservation in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Implementation will be adapted to each state’s high priorities and opportunities for innovation. For example, in Maryland, high-resolution imagery will help prioritize locations for riparian buffers as part of the Chesapeake Bay Riparian Forest Buffer Initiative, while Delaware will offer vouchers to offset the cost of buffers through the Buffer Bonus Program.
Comprehensive Watershed Conservation in Dairy and Livestock Landscapes of the Chesapeake Bay – $7 million
Lead Partner: National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
A large, diverse group of partners will use a “raise the bar” approach that rewards agricultural producers in Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania for implementing higher impact, priority conservation practices in targeted subwatersheds and counties of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The approach will address both water quality degradation and inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife in the CBW through a combination of comprehensive conservation planning, conservation practice implementation, and strategic habitat restoration. A new concept of conservation delivery is proposed: the conservation brokerage, where agency-neutral funding is used to best address resource concern. The partners will also use cost-benefit targeting to focus financial assistance dollars.
Delmarva Whole System Conservation Partnership — From Field to Stream – $5 million
Lead Partners: The Nature Conservancy and the Delaware Maryland Agribusiness Association
This public-private partnership in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia will use a science-based approach to achieve significant environmental objectives: 1) improve water quality through the implementation of advanced nutrient management practices on 95,000 acres and restoring, enhancing, and protecting 3,000 acres of natural filters (wetlands and buffers); and 2) expand wildlife habitat by enhancing, restoring, and protecting 3,000 acres of high quality wetlands and buffers. The partners estimate that these conservation systems in priority locations will reduce 836,000 pounds of total nitrogen, 33,300 pounds of total phosphorus, and 58,000 pounds of total suspended solids currently delivered to local waterways each year, which will support achieving the goals of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.
Mason-Dixon Working Lands Partnership – $1.5 million
Lead Partner: Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay
Partners will bring significant financial resources to areas of Pennsylvania and Maryland within the Chesapeake Bay to overcome common barriers to landowner adoption of conservation systems, including limited outreach, lack of technical assistance and funding, and limited coordination among programs and private markets. A focus on soil health and resilience—as well as harnessing natural systems including riparian forest buffers, restored wetlands, and healthy forests—will not only reduce nutrient loading to the Chesapeake Bay but also improve water quality in high-value streams and water bodies in the area for the benefit of fisheries, drinking water supply, and recreation.