BALTIMORE, Md. — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, lauded the announcement today by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack of new conservation grants to support the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed region. In total, Secretary Vilsack announced funding for 115 high-impact projects nationwide that will receive more than $370 million in Federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
“The Chesapeake Bay delegation fought incredibly hard to ensure the delivery of funding to farming and other affected communities in the region through the Farm Bill, and the grants announced today represent the beginning of a new community-level approach toward conservation,” Senator Cardin said. “Maryland farmers understand how valuable a healthy Chesapeake Bay is to our region and our nation. I am confident that we can help our farmers and our Chesapeake Bay at the same time. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program grants leverage resources and bring together conservation organizations, cities and townships, universities, agricultural associations and businesses to make decisions about Chesapeake Bay conservation.”
According to the USDA announcement: “RCPP competitively awards funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. … Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.”
A 2013 study commissioned by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation estimates that conservation activities supported more than 660,000 jobs. Conservation also provides an economic boost by spurring local tourism. Cleaner water and enhanced wildlife habitat provide additional opportunities for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. The outdoor recreation economy supports 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue, and $646 billion in spending each year.
A complete list of the projects and their descriptions is available on the NRCS website. More than 600 pre-proposals were submitted for RCPP in 2014. Eligible purposes are projects that would be eligible under Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and a few other NRCS conservation programs designed to preserve and protect water quality and water quantity and forested lands.
In May 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that the Chesapeake Bay Watershed had officially designated as one of eight Critical Conservation Areas that are eligible for set-aside funding as part of the consolidated Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The RCPP, which was first detailed in the 2012 Farm Bill and passed into law in February 2014 with approval of the Conference Report on the 2014 Farm Bill, benefits the region’s farmers and continues a strong foundation for restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.