The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently awarded more than $200 million to groups through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), including at least nine conservation districts.
The Berks County Conservation District (BCCD) in Pennsylvania will match its $2.23 million RCPP funding with about $2.3 million in partner contributions to implement agricultural best management practices (BMP), including riparian buffers and filter strips, to improve and protect local water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The Chesapeake Bay watershed makes up about ten percent of the county, encompassing a couple hundred farms whose practices affect the quality of water in the area. Berks County Conservation District Executive Director Dean Druckenmiller said the district has about ten contracts for the work and had previously identified target areas through other efforts.
“In addition to the environmental benefits of riparian buffers, such as reduction of sediment and nutrient loading, riparian buffers are also of immense benefit in achieving required reductions,” Druckenmiller said. “When riparian buffers with exclusionary fencing are entered into CAST, the Chesapeake Bay Model, they are credited with some of the highest sediment and nutrient reductions among all best management practices.”
The grass filter strips will be used between fields and streams in areas where the farmers are reluctant of the full forested buffer, so there is some prevention of runoff, he said. Other practices that will be implemented in several farmlands include comprehensive nutrient management plans that include manure handling systems, animal heavy use area protection and animal exclusion fencing.
“We’ve been doing work in the Bay portion of the county, we just haven’t had significant dollars dedicated to it like other watersheds in the county,” Druckenmiller said. “This is a great opportunity for the conservation district to service some of our Chesapeake Bay watershed operators and producers where we’ve identified a big need.”
Partners include Stroud Water Research Center, Team Ag and the Lancaster County Conservation District.
The Barry Conservation District in Michigan received a $762,740 RCPP grant to work with the Thornapple-Kalamazoo Water Quality Partnership on improvements and protection for water quality and habitat for fish, wildlife and invertebrates in the Gun, Rabbit and Thornapple River watersheds. Project work will include tree and shrub plantings, brush and invasive species management and pollinator habitat establishment.
Land management practices will be identified with farmer- and landowner-led groups, as well as other cooperatives that have been working on landscape-scale habitat work.
“We want to work with them to fund what they see as the most important practices to benefit wildlife and terrestrial habitats on that larger landscape scale,” Barry Conservation District Executive Director Sarah Nelson said. “It’s important to do this because habitat degradation, fragmentation and loss are consistently cited as some of the greatest threats to biodiversity. Threats to biodiversity translate to threats to the future of our natural resources, including wildlife.”
“The specific practices of tree planting, brush management and pollinator habitat planting help to restore degraded habitats,” she said. “They can also create habitat in fragmented areas to reduce edge effects and create corridors between high-quality areas.”
Other practices include cover crops, grassed waterways, conservation tillage, nutrient management, filter strips, stream restoration and wetland restoration.
“The funding will undoubtedly serve not only to protect our water resources but also to benefit the community in the area by providing funding and technical support to farmers and other landowners to help them continue to be some of the greatest stewards of our soil and water resources,” Barry Conservation District Watershed Coordinator David Comeau said.
Partners in the initiative include Allegan Conservation District, the Match-e-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians and Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, along with local commissions and wildlife groups.