BOZEMAN, Mont., August 21, 2023 – The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Montana is accepting applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE). To be considered for funding in the current cycle, producers and landowners should apply by October 27, 2023.
“NRCS provides funding and technical assistance to help farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners implement conservation practices that improve their environmental and economic sustainability,” said Tom Watson, NRCS State Conservationist for Montana. “Conservation work focused on local outcomes with the support of local partners and land managers achieves meaningful conservation across a landscape. These opportunities are open to ag operations of any scale.”
Conservation funding is available for the following programs and initiatives:
Community Agriculture: Building on the high tunnel initiative available in the past, the community agriculture initiative offers an expanded set of conservation practices tailored to the conservation needs of small-scale ag producers.
Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Projects: The U.S. Forest Service and NRCS are working together to improve the health of forests and reduce wildfire threats to communities where public forests and grasslands connect to privately owned lands. There are currently five projects in Montana, including the Connecting Fuels Treatments in the Salish Mountains and Whitefish Range Project, Elkhorn Cooperative Management Area, Fire Adapted Bitterroot Project, Gallatin Valley Forest Resiliency and Watershed Health Project, and the Libby Surround Project.
Migratory Bird Resurgence Initiative: This initiative is focused on unmanipulated wetlands of two acres or less within working cropland as identified on the National Wetland Inventory. It is aimed at preserving, protecting, and improving habitat for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, neotropicals, and other avian species in the Prairie Pothole Region.
National On-Farm Energy Initiative: Agricultural producers work with NRCS-approved technical service providers to develop agricultural energy management plans or farm energy audits that assess energy consumption on an operation. NRCS may also provide assistance to implement recommended measures identified in the energy audit through the use of conservation practice standards.
National Organic Initiative: Producers currently certified as organic, transitioning to organic, or National Organic Program exempt will have access to a broad set of conservation practices to assist in treating their resource concerns while fulfilling many of the requirements in an Organic System Plan.
National Water Quality Initiative: This initiative focuses assistance in small watersheds to improve water quality where this is a critical concern. With the help of partners at the local, state, and national levels, NRCS identified priority watersheds in Montana where on-farm conservation investments will deliver the greatest water quality benefits. The two projects in Montana are in the Lower Gallatin watershed (Camp and Godfrey Creeks) and the Shields River watershed.
Sage Grouse Initiative: Producers can work with NRCS on three different components to improve sage-grouse habitat. One is a general category to implement prescribed grazing management practices. The others are to seed cropland back to perennial species to improve the connectivity for sage-grouse that depend on large, intact landscapes and the removal of conifers to increase nest success rates.
Targeted Implementation Plans: Montana NRCS targets its investments in very specific areas to achieve clearly defined natural resource goals as identified by local partners. This approach harnesses the power of multiple producers in one area undertaking similar conservation projects to achieve a regional or landscape-scale result. There are more than 100 local projects currently available in fiscal year 2024.
Conservation Incentive Contracts: Conservation Incentive Contracts are an option under EQIP, with a focus on climate-smart forestry and agriculture and drought resilience management practices. EQIP-CIC provides financial assistance to adopt conservation activities on working landscapes.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program: The RCPP promotes coordination of NRCS conservation activities with partners that offer value-added contributions to expand our collective ability to address on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns. Currently, there are RCPP land management projects in Montana and easement-based projects, including Northern Great Plains Grassland Conservation Project, and the Gallatin Valley Land Trust project, Bitterroot Conservation Connectivity Project, Flint Creek Valley Conservation Partnership Project.
Wetland Reserve Easements: Part of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, WREs help private and tribal landowners protect, restore, and enhance wetlands which have been previously degraded due to agricultural uses. These easements provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce flooding, recharge groundwater, protect biological diversity, provide resilience to climate change, and provide opportunities for educational, scientific, and limited recreational activities.
EQIP offers financial and technical assistance to eligible participants to install or implement structural and management practices on eligible agricultural land. In Montana, historically underserved participants, including limited resource, and beginning farmers and ranchers, socially disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers will receive a higher payment rate for eligible conservation practices applied.
The CSP is for working lands. For farmers, ranchers, and forestland owners already taking steps to improve the condition of the land, CSP can help find new ways to meet resource and operation goals. All the land in a producer’s agricultural operation must be enrolled to be eligible for CSP. In addition to applying by October 27, 2023, new proposed activities must be selected by January 26, 2024, so the field office conservation planner can complete assessment and ranking of applications.
Producers willing to focus their CSP conservation efforts on solutions which promote climate-related benefits are encouraged to select activities from the Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry Mitigation Activities List. Climate smart activities directly improve soil carbon, reduce nitrogen losses, or reduce capture, avoid or sequester carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide emissions associated with agricultural production.
NRCS accepts conservation program applications year-round; however, applications for the next funding consideration must be submitted by October 27, 2023. Applications made after that date will be considered in the next funding cycle. Additional information is available on the Montana NRCS website. Visitwww.mt.nrcs.usda.gov and scroll down to State Programs and Initiatives. Or contact your local USDA service center.