USDA, Groups Announce $6 Million In Conservation Grants To Arkansas

Feb 19, 2016

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and partners across the nation will direct up to $720 million towards 84 conservation projects around the country, including three projects in Arkansas.

According to a media release, the projects will help communities improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability and are part of the second round of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Arkansas projects include:

East Fork Cadron Creek Project – The East Fork Cadron Creek watershed is located primarily in Faulkner County but also touches Conway, Cleburne and White counties. The East Fork Cadron drains into the Arkansas River. Resource concerns within the project area are water quality degradation due to excessive nutrients and pesticides in surface and groundwater and also excessive sediment in surface waters. The primary source of contamination is cited as agriculture practices causing siltation and turbidity in the water. The project will use a systems approach to address pasture lands and cropland to address the resource concerns. The grazing systems are designed to improve grass management for increased ground cover, infiltration rates and soil health to reduce soil erosion and sediment and nutrient loading to the streams in the area. Cropland conservation systems combine practices to reduce the amount of sediment and nutrient runoff. The lead partner is the Faulkner County Conservation District. The proposed NRCS investment is $1 million. Seven partners are involved in the project.

Greers Ferry Lake Watershed Project – The upper Little Red River (ULRR) watershed in the Ozark ecoregion of Arkansas supports recreational use, water supply, timber industry, productive land for grazing and contains 57 species of greatest conservation need. Water quality degradation and inadequate habitat for fish and wildlife are concerns within the ULRR watershed and will be addressed in this project through the reduction of erosion, sedimentation and excess nutrient runoff. Conservation practices will be targeted towards addressing these concerns and focus on land that directly impacts streams, riparian land. The Nature Conservancy will implement innovative methods such as “”natural channel design”” stream restoration projects and new ways to approach unpaved road improvements to significantly reduce sedimentation in streams while providing cost-effective, long-term solutions to the producers. The lead partner is The Nature Conservancy. The proposed NRCS investment is $816,000. Six partners are involved in the project including four conservation districts – Stone County, Van Buren County, Buffalo District (Searcy County) and Cleburne County.

West Fork White River Watershed Initiative – The West Fork White River (WFWR) is one of six major tributaries to the White River, which forms Beaver Lake, the primary drinking water source in Northwest Arkansas for 420,000 residents. Beaver Lake watershed is a state nonpoint source priority for sediment and nutrient reduction, and the WFWR is one of the largest contributors of sediment and phosphorus loadings. The Watershed Conservation Resource Center will work with several partners and producers/landowners to 1) design, construct, and establish large-scale river restorations through the PL-566 program that address accelerated streambank erosion at identified priority sites and 2) implement BMPs on agricultural and forest lands through EQIP. These actions should reduce sediment and nutrient loadings to the watershed and prevent the loss of agricultural lands and forest, while improving aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The lead partner is the Watershed Conservation Resource Center. The proposed NRCS investment is $4.34 million. Fourteen partners are involved in the project including state agencies, a conservation district, municipalities and private organizations.

The projects also drew the support of one state official.

“We put out a call for innovative and results-focused projects that will deliver the most conservation impact,” said Mike Sullivan, Natural Resources Conservation Services state conservationist in Arkansas. “Our partners answered with creative, locally-led approaches to help producers support their ongoing business operations and address natural resource challenges in their communities, here in Arkansas, and across the nation.”

The state received funding for three projects during 2015.

They included Growing Conservation in the Illinois River Watershed, Arkansas Red River Project, Rice Stewardship Partnership – Sustaining the Future of Rice, and Bayou Meto – Lower Arkansas.

The USDA also announced Friday that $40 million will be set aside for restoring forests, with about $670,000 going to a project in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

This partnership is sending funding to Arkansas through the Woodland Restoration 2016-2018 project. The project, in portions of Arkansas and Oklahoma in the Ozark-St. Francis and Ouachita National Forests, is scheduled to receive $668,750 this year. NRCS’s portion will be $350,000 to assist private landowners.

More than 40 partners are contributing to the project including the NRCS, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas Association of Conservation District, Arkansas Forestry Commission, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Oklahoma agencies include the Oklahoma Forestry Services, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and Oklahoma Conservation Districts. The Nature Conservancy, National Wild Turkey Federation, Native Expeditions along with other state and conservation organizations are assisting in the project.