The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, and other partners are combining forces to address conservation issues in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin. The USDA-NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awarded $1.5 million for the project to Sand County Foundation.
“We’re looking forward to assisting landowners in making land management improvements across the ecologically important landscapes of the Driftless Area,” said Dr. Heidi Peterson, Sand County Foundation’s Vice President of Agricultural Conservation and Research. “By targeting conservation funding and technical assistance to grasslands and oak savannas, we will reduce erosion from vulnerable landscapes, and increase habitat for grassland birds and pollinators.” Nationally, RCPP awards pair conservation partners with the NRCS to help farmers, ranchers and forestland owners implement systems that conserve water and soil resources, improve the health of wildlife habitats and increase climate resistance.
“The Driftless Region Conservation Partnership will leverage the resources of NRCS and local partners in targeted geographies to enroll about 100 eligible landowners in RCPP contracts,” Peterson explained. “Over the five-year project, we will improve resiliency and ecosystem services on at least 1,000 acres of existing degraded prairie and savanna habitat. We will also convert vulnerable cropland to permanent vegetative cover as agroforestry, prairie buffers, field borders, and pastures enrolled in prescribed grazing systems,” Peterson said. “This RCPP award is important because it supports the economic well-being of farmers and rural communities, and extends NRCS resources to historically underserved producers,” Peterson added.
The Driftless Area includes much of southwest Wisconsin. Its distinctive terrain is the result of being bypassed by the last continental glacier, which resulted in a lack of glacial drift, the deposits of silt, gravel, and rock that retreating glaciers leave behind. Key partners in the project include: Valley Stewardship Network, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Southern Driftless Grasslands, Savanna Institute, Applied Ecological Services, The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Southern Wisconsin Land Conservancy.
In 2021, NRCS is investing $330 million in 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships to address climate change, improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability. Projects are awarded through the RCPP. RCPP partners offer value-added contributions to amplify the impact of RCPP funding. Throughout its history, RCPP has leveraged partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA, resulting in nearly $3 billion collectively invested in natural resource conservation on private lands.
“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is public-private partnership working at its best,” said Terry Cosby, Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “These new projects will harness the power of partnership to help bring about solutions to natural resource concerns across the country while supporting our efforts to combat the climate crisis.”