NRCS Oregon and partners invest over $29 million in four new Regional Conservation Partnership Program projects
Portland, Ore., August 18, 2022 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA, NRCS) announced it is awarding $197 million for 41 locally-led conservation projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) across the nation.
In Oregon specifically, four RCPP projects were selected and awarded $11M, with partner matching funds of $18.5M.
RCPP is a partner-driven program that leverages partner resources to advance innovative projects that address climate change, enhance water quality, and address other critical challenges on working lands.
Learn more about Oregon’s four new RCPP projects below:
Western Oregon Cascades Recovery Effort Climate-Smart Reforestation and Recovery Assistance
Lead Partner: Sustainable Northwest
Lead State: OR
Total Partner Contribution Amount: $5,235,658
A partnership led by Sustainable Northwest plans to address forest health, fuel accumulation, erosion, and wildlife habitat resource concerns with forest landowners in the footprint of the 2020 Labor Day fires across the western Oregon Cascades. The project’s objectives are to build scalable solutions for post-fire recovery and reforestation, coordinate producer outreach, and facilitate forest management planning and seedling sourcing across multiple fire-impacted areas. Previous outreach and sign-up efforts illustrated a substantial backlog and pent-up demand, which the partnership plans to address using a streamlined AFA planning, contracting and payment approach.
Tualatin Basin Habitat Conservation Partnership
Lead Partner: Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District
Lead State: OR
Total Partner Contribution Amount: $1,929,339
The Tualatin Basin Habitat Conservation Partnership will remove barriers that obstruct migration access for native migratory fish in the Gales Creek Watershed in northwest Oregon. These barriers, including dams and inadequate culverts, limit migratory passage for threatened and non-threatened species such as salmon, steelhead and lamprey. and expand spawning and rearing accessibility for anadromous species. In addition to barrier removal, the project will establish native vegetation on streambanks and riparian areas to provide stream shading to help protect water quality from sediment, nutrient, and pesticide runoff. The presence of highly skilled local entities that can streamline the planning and implementation of project activities with landowners makes this an ideal AFA project.
Southeast Harney County, Oregon Sage-Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy
Lead Partner: Harney Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD)
Lead State: OR
Total Partner Contribution Amount: $9,767,551
The Southeast Harney County, Oregon Sage-Grouse Habitat Conservation Strategy project goal is to reduce primary threats to Greater sage-grouse and improve habitat quality and quantity by accelerating implementation of conservation actions on private lands. This project will expand participation in the Conservation Agreements and Assurances program with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which has proven to restore wildlife habitats while creating opportunities for landowners and benefiting rural economies. Ecological objectives include: Reduce wildfire risk; treat invasive annual grasses/noxious weeds and augment understory vegetation; minimize juniper/conifer encroachment; improve grazing management strategies; plan and implement actions to connect fragmented habitat, and enhance mesic habitat.
McKay Creek On-Farm Modernization
Lead Partner: Deschutes River Conservancy
Lead State: OR
Total Partner Contribution Amount: $1,496,498
Historically, McKay Creek in central Oregon was a breeding ground for steelhead, salmon, and other native species, but due to water diversions and changing climate conditions, the middle reach of the creek runs dry by late summer. The McKay Creek On-Farm Modernization project is the on-farm portion of a larger project led by Deschutes River Conservancy. This project will provide participating producers along McKay Creek with the irrigation infrastructure necessary to increase irrigation efficiency by helping move producers from flood irrigation to pressurized systems. The goal of the project is to improve the overall hydrology of McKay Creek and the adjacent riparian ecosystem, as well as restore steelhead, salmon and other fish to the reach.
NRCS Oregon’s Success with RCPP
Since 2015, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Oregon has invested over $60M in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). In that time, NRCS Oregon has leveraged technical and financial resources with over 200 conservation districts, NGOs, agricultural entities and federal, state and local governments. These organizations have contributed over $100M towards shared projects. These collective conservation investments, totaling over $160M, took place across 32 projects covering more than 200,000 acres and 600 landowner contracts.
“Partnerships are the heart of every RCPP conservation success,” said Ron Alvarado, NRCS Oregon’s State Conservationist. “The program fits perfectly within our Strategic Approach to Conservation business model, furthering our ability to harness the power of partnerships to solve regional agricultural conservation issues for the long term.”
Oregon’s RCPP projects have targeted forest health, invasive plant control, waterfowl and upland habitats, salmon and native fish habitats and irrigation modernization. Projects often prioritize climate resiliency and aim to conserve and protect resources against ongoing drought, wildfire and extreme weather events experienced across the West.
Projects are designed from the ground-up to address local issues and threats, but also with an eye towards making an impact at a regional scale. Collaborative partnerships amplify conservation investments and can achieve regional conservation goals across a landscape or watershed.
Some highlights from Oregon’s RCPP program since 2015 include:
23,000 acres enrolled in conservation easements
4,000 acres of oak woodland habitat restored
5,000 acres of wetland habitat restored
25 miles of irrigation pipeline installed
300,000 acres of wildfire risk reduction
35 stream miles restored
Thousands of riparian areas restored or protected
Innovations in carbon markets for small forest landowners
First authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP was designed to encourage coordination of NRCS conservation activities with partners to increase total conservation investments across the state and national landscape.
NRCS seeks to invest in projects that feature key principles of the program: impact, innovation, partner contributions and collaboration. Large-scale conservation impacts require innovative solutions, and partnership-led conservation efforts encourage new approaches and innovations to solve these challenges. RCPP projects can integrate several conservation tools including land management, land rentals, entity or US-held easements and watershed activities.
NRCS Oregon has implemented its business model, termed the Strategic Approach to Conservation, since 2009. This approach is founded upon locally-led initiatives and strong partnerships to prioritize and focus conservation investments across Oregon.
RCPP and the Strategic Approach to Conservation work hand in hand to maximize the impact of conservation on the ground.
Learn more and apply
In the past, there have been two announcements: Classic and Alternative Funding Arrangement (AFA). In the coming years, there will be new potentials for RCPP funding. Last week, the USDA announced a new national RCPP funding opportunity for $40 million to be focused solely on Nutrient Management practices within Critical Conservation Areas (CCA). In Oregon, we have the Western Waters CCA. Proposals are due Oct 31. Learn more and apply here.
Successful RCPP projects start at the local level. Partners are strongly encouraged to work with their local NRCS field office and Basin Team Leaders to draft proposals. Partners can find their local field office on the NRCS Oregon website.
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