Projects to conserve and restore grasslands are among the biggest beneficiaries of $197 million in grants awarded Friday under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which uses contributions from non-governmental organizations as well as states and local governments to maximize funding for each project.

Four different grasslands projects will share $19.2 million in RCPP funding, which will be matched by $19.4 million in partner contributions, the Natural Resources Conservation Service said in an announcement. In all, 41 projects are being funded.

The largest of the grants, $10 million, will go for a project to restore and conserve grasslands in the southern High Plains. RCPP funding will be used to place conservation easements on more than 40,000 acres. The Nature Conservancy, which is leading the project, and more than ten other partners "have spent years developing the Grassland Strongholds strategy, designed to create large areas of conserved and preserved grasslands within the Prairie Grasslands [Critical Conservation Area],” one of eight areas so designated under the RCPP program.

Another grasslands project, called Life from Soil, aims “to improve the ecological function of over 500,000 acres of grasslands in Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota by 2027,” NRCS said. “Participating ranchers will enroll in World Wildlife Fund’s Ranch Systems and Viability Planning Network (which already has under 420,000 acres enrolled in the Northern Great Plains), which creates a support system for ranchers interested in making ecological improvements and enhancing the financial sustainability of their operations.

Ranchers who take part agree not convert any of their grasslands for ten years and develop and implement a written grazing management plan, among other requirements. The project was awarded close to $2.86 million.

In Texas, $3.3 million will go toward prairie grassland conservation in 30 counties in the central part of the state. The project will “help producers incorporate proven grassland management practices into their operations to increase plant diversity and carbon sequestration, and reverse grassland bird losses caused by habitat degradation.” The goal is to “work on at 54,000 acres by contacting over 4,000 producers to recruit project participants; completing trainings on grazing management, monitoring, and other topics; and participating in on-ranch ecological monitoring,” NRCS said.

The Great Plains Grasslands Restoration Project will receive about $3 million. Lead partners Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever are working to “build upon the growing momentum within the broader Great Plains Grasslands Initiative to restore and enhance critical grassland habitats within the Flint Hills, Red Hills, and Smoky Hills regions in Kansas.

Other projects focus on development of switchgrass on 5,000 acres in Iowa, with the aim of reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, and increasing farmer income, and – also in Iowa – planting 200,000 acres of cover crops using precision agriculture to help cattle farmers “increase the resilience of their operations and improve conservation outcomes.”

In California, NRCS is awarding $1.7 million for a farmer-to-farmer collaboration with the goal of increasing the “capacity of California agricultural lands to provide habitat, forage, and other support to wild and managed pollinators, including bees, butterflies and other important invertebrate species. A broad partnership including the Almond Board of California, Bayer Crop Science and the California Farm Bureau plans to use grower connections to secure the participation of producers across a wide swath of the 10-county project area.”

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In Pennsylvania, where nutrient runoff affects the Chesapeake Bay, the Farmland Preservation and Climate Change Mitigation project “will leverage state and county farmland preservation investments to complement the use of RCPP funds to install climate-smart practices and systems on Pennsylvania farms. … Soil health practices and systems, as well as helping transition producers to organic production, will be the focus of the land management element of the project.” The award is $7.85 million, with partners contributing $12.8 million.

Another project in Pennsylvania is getting nearly $10 million so more than 30 producers in six central Pennsylvania counties can implement “conservation practices and systems that would help address water quality and wildlife habitat concerns for 18 streams listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act.” The Chesapeake Conservancy is the lead partner on the project, for which more than a dozen partners are contributing $11.5 million.

NRCS said the projects are being funded using two different RCPP funding opportunities: RCPP Classic and RCPP Alternative Funding Arrangements (AFA). The Classic projects “are implemented using NRCS contracts and easements with producers, landowners and communities, in collaboration with project partners. Through RCPP AFA, partners have more flexibility in working directly with agricultural producers to support the development of new conservation structures and approaches that would not otherwise be available under RCPP Classic.”

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