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USDA awards nonprofits, others with $22M conservation funds
Michigan Correspondent
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced last month the agency will award more than $22.6 million to various groups across the country for conservation efforts.
The agency announced June 7 it’s investing in 33 projects through its competitive Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) program to support “next-generation conservation efforts on working lands, and develop market-based solutions to resource challenges.”

Many, though not all, of the efforts are geared towards water conservation and water quality improvement. Public and private sector grantees include non-governmental organizations, Native American tribes, colleges and universities, as well as local governments. Each grantee is required to at least match the award.

The projects announced last month focus on conservation “pay-for-success” models to encourage conservation practices, development and adoption of water management technologies and approaches. They focus on historically underserved farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners.

The 2017 CIG awards bring the total NRCS investment to nearly $287 million for 711 projects since 2004, the announcement said.

“The Conservation Innovation Grant program is an example of government at its best, providing seed money to help spur cutting-edge projects,” said NRCS Acting Chief for Conservation Leonard Jordan.

“This year’s competition resulted in an impressive array of proposals that will ultimately benefit the people who grow our food and fiber.”

The announcement highlighted a $1.5 million grant to the National Audubon Society for its “Grazed on Bird-Friendly Land” project, part of its Conservation Ranching Program. Ranchers work with local ecologists who guide them through sustainable grazing and management practices meant to support healthy grasslands that help support bird populations.

Cattle owners who participate can brand their beef with Audubon’s “Grazed on Bird-Friendly Land” label and market it at a premium price.

The 2017 CIG award will help Audubon scale up the program from a pilot to a fully functioning, self-sustaining ranch-to-retail in seven states. These include Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

Other grantees include The Climate Trust, covering the whole country. It was awarded $900,000 for its Environmental Price Assurance Facility. The group proposes to develop and launch the Facility to help mitigate risks associated with the future value of environmental credits.

It will serve as a buyer of last resort for credits, which is meant to increase certainty for investors and project developers. The plan is to thereby spur implementation of agriculture and forestry conservation projects – it’s hoped that landowners will see more income from additional investment by private capital for these voluntary projects.
Other groups receiving grants: Trout Unlimited (Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming), $1.4 million; Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation, $289,922; The Conservation Fund (Georgia), $154,278; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Assoc., $600,000; Delta Institute (Wisconsin), $700,000; Chesapeake Bay Foundation (Pennsylvania), $415,341; and 12 Capital (Delaware, Maryland), $804,672.

A water management award was given to the Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians (Washington) for $1 million. The group will demonstrate its successful implementation of an emerging animal waste treatment system for dairy farms.

Other water management awards went to MagneGas (Florida), $431,874; Kansas State University, $672,982; Clemson University (Georgia, South Carolina), $499,544; and several others.

Grants to historically underserved farmers include, among others, New South Development and Training, LLC in Mississippi, $800,000; Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project, Inc. in Oklahoma, $600,000; National Center for Appropriate Technology in Texas, $785,565; and Hualapai Tribe in Arizona, $102,461.

CIG is funded through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The maximum grant per project is $2 million, with each project lasting three years.