Friday, February 14, 2014

Just in

Officials highlight 75 years of voluntary conservation work on private farm, range and forest lands in Idaho Projects represent multi-million investment in the state's environment, economy
BOISE - When the Idaho Soil & Water Conservation Commission was created by the Idaho Legislature in 1939, nearly half the state, or, 27.2 million acres were suffering from soil erosion. The Idaho Legislature created the Conservation Commission to work on setting up local soil and water conservation districts throughout the state and partner with the federal government and private landowners to address those soil-erosion issues.
"Voluntary, proactive conservation work on Idaho's private farmlands, rangelands and forest lands has been going since the Dust Bowl era and the Great Depression. We were among Idaho's first conservationists," noted H. Norman Wright, chairman of the Conservation Commission from American Falls, during a noon ceremony at the Idaho Statehouse. "We had serious issues to address at that time, and we dealt with them. Over the last 75 years, we've been working on soil and water conservation issues day-in and day-out to preserve our most precious resources and improve Idaho's environment."
Flash forward to 2014, and the Conservation Commission, along with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), local soil and water conservation districts, and private landowners work together in a four-way partnership to implement hundreds of ag-related conservation projects every year. In addition, the Idaho Office of Species Conservation (OSC) works with private landowners, state and federal partners to improve fish and wildlife habitat for the benefit of candidate, threatened or endangered species.
All told, the agencies invested more than $37.9 million in boots-on-the-ground conservation projects in the state of Idaho in 2013. These investments lead to spinoff jobs and positive local economic impacts throughout the state.
The Conservation Commission presented Arthur Snow Legislative Awards to five current legislators and one former legislator on Wednesday in recognition of the lawmakers' vital support for and contributions to ag-related conservation programs.
The award recipients are: State Sen. Steve Bair, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Bert Brackett, Sen. Jim Patrick, Rep. Eric Anderson, Rep. Steve Miller, and former Rep. Ken Roberts, now serving on the Idaho Tax Commission.
Investments in private land conservation help keep the state ahead of the curve when it comes to managing environmental concerns about water quality, soil erosion, wind erosion, ground water withdrawals, reducing nitrates leaching into ground water, and more, Wright said. "None of us can do this alone. It takes multiple partners, working together, to achieve our conservation goals."
Individual agency contributions to conservation work on private land include:
·     $32.4 million invested by the NRCS through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Stewardship programs. These funds represent more than 850 projects statewide. The federal funds have a local spinoff impact of $17 million and created 375 jobs in 2013.
·     $4.4 million invested through OSC, representing 86 conservation projects statewide.
·     $1.15 million in technical assistance, representing 7,681 hours of tech-help, to local soil and water conservation districts and private landowners by the Conservation Commission.
·     $2.4 million for habitat improvements to 79,320 acres of rangeland for sage-grouse, a candidate species, other wildlife species and livestock by the NRCS. 
·     Conserving ground water in the Snake River Plain through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), saving 34,450 acre-feet of water, 68 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, and reducing soil erosion by 138,000 tons. The Conservation Commission leads management of this Farm Services Agency initiative by working with local landowners and coordinating with other state agencies.
·     Reducing nitrate pollution to ground water in priority areas - 115,000 pounds of nitrates, 24,000 pounds of phosphorous and 137,000 pounds of sediment were reduced in 2013 involving 35,685 acres. This is a Conservation Commission initiative working with local landowners.
·     Since 1990, the Conservation Commission has issued $24.9 million in low-interest loans to achieve conservation projects on 132,500 acres of land (many of them are irrigation efficiency projects). And it has completed 93 TMDL water-quality implementation plans statewide, with 17 more plans in the works for 2014.    
Agency officials with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game commended the Conservation Commission and its partners for their achievements in private land conservation work.
Implementing Idaho’s TMDL program involves many people and groups," said Barry Burnell, a spokesman for DEQ. "Over the last 75 years, the Idaho Soil and Water Conservation Commission has led the effort in promoting voluntary conservation. With the Commission and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts' assistance, Idaho’s surface water quality has improved for all Idahoans to enjoy.”
Added Virgil Moore, Director of Idaho Fish and Game, “The agricultural lands of Idaho that provide our food, fiber and fuel are also critical in preserving our wildlife populations and the state’s outdoor heritage. The Department recognizes and appreciates how important landowners are as stewards of wildlife habitat in Idaho.”

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