Washington, DC - Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack launched a new era in American conservation efforts with an historic focus on public-private partnership. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA's $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. $400 million in USDA funding is available in the first year.

Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

Here's what others are saying about this new approach to conservation:

American Farmland Trust

"The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a fresh approach to providing funding to help farmers protect and restore the soil, water and the other natural resources they rely on for their livelihoods. By encouraging regional partnerships, RCPP not only focuses attention on areas where these sound conservation practices are needed, it will also leverage funding from other sources, critically important during these times of scarce economic resources." Andrew McElwaine, President and CEO

American Rivers

"Private landowners are important partners in river conservation and we all benefit when we work together. This program will not only advance innovative river conservation solutions, it will benefit individual farmers and ranchers, as well as local economies and communities in key river basins. Prioritizing investment in key river basins will ensure major benefits for clean water supplies, wildlife habitat, and local economies. American Rivers looks forward to working with NRCS and farmers and ranchers to leverage this program to ensure healthy rivers and sustainable use of our natural resources." Bob Irvin, President

Ducks Unlimited

"The Critical Conservation Area designation allows USDA to focus its assistance in many areas that overlap with the essential priorities that Ducks Unlimited has already strategically identified as habitats in which we can have the most impact with our conservation work. These regions also reflect where DU has standing partnerships with agriculture farm and ranch stewards, who help implement habitat conservation projects on private lands." Dale Hall, CEO

Ducks Unlimited

"As a rice farmer, the designations of the Mississippi River Basin and California Bay Delta are particularly exciting to rice agriculture. Opportunities to maximize conservation on working rice lands will also maximize wintering waterfowl habitat in these regions." George Duncan, President

Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition

"This program is a winner for farmers, communities and the Great Lakes. The program will help bolster Great Lakes restoration efforts at a time when we're seeing a lot of inspiring results—yet also understand that there's much more work to do. This program has great potential for building on the many restoration successes that we have seen through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative to improve the health of the Lakes. We thank Sen. Stabenow, Secretary Vilsack and the Obama Administration for their commitment to the Lakes and the millions of people who rely on them for the drinking water, jobs, and way of life." Todd Ambs, Director

Kellogg Company

"This is not just project by project, farm by farm; this is taking a much more holistic approach. That's where the opportunity is for us as a company to work with critical stakeholders, in government, in our supply chain, in the (non-governmental organization) community like the Nature Conservancy." Diane Holdorf, Chief Sustainability Officer

Mississippi River Network

"The Mississippi River Network supports the naming of the Mississippi River as a Critical Conservation Area under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Targeting resources to reduce nutrient run off that ultimately ends up in the Gulf of Mexico is a positive move to improve water quality in our nation's great river." Meg Kelly, Interim Program Manager

Mississippi River Network's Steering Committee

"Public-private partnerships, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, provide additional support and assistance to producers and landowners interested in reducing nutrient runoff from their land and, ultimately, improving water quality downstream in the Mississippi River." Jill Kostel, Co-Chair and Senior Environmental Engineer for the Wetlands Initiative in Chicago

National Association of Conservation Districts

"Conservation districts have always supported a collaborative, locally-led approach to getting conservation implemented on the ground, and this new program falls right in line with this approach. The concept of partnering to accomplish the delivery of conservation is not new. Soil and Water Conservation Districts were established on the state and local level since the 1930s to partner in the delivery of federal funds based on local priorities. The RCPP program expands our opportunities to reach a new level of commitment to conservation delivery on the working landscape in America. The RCPP program will encourage greater investment, leveraging of resources, and participation by the private business sectors, membership organizations, and state and local governments. NACD is encouraged by the accountability built into the RCPP, ensuring that work should be monitored throughout the contract period to accurately document, quantify and account for results."

"With the baseline of conservation program delivery and a large footprint on the landscape, districts can be the catalyst for driving the concept of expanded partnership to deliver regional conservation. Soil and water conservation districts are valuable partners with a proven ability to work one-on-one with producers and help get conservation put on the ground. Because of their strong local relationships, they can help create valuable connections with other interested parties for potential project collaboration." Earl Garber, President

The Nature Conservancy

"The RCPP is not business as usual. Its bolder and more comprehensive approach makes the RCPP the most innovative new Farm Bill conservation program. It replaces the old approach sometimes referred to as 'random acts of conservation' to instead leverage private sector investment and focus on the critical areas where funding is most needed. This is cost-effective, and will maximize important conservation outcomes such as improved water quality, water conservation, resilience to drought, flood prevention, air quality, soil conservation, soil health and habitat conservation, restoration and enhancement on private lands through voluntary conservation practices." Sean McMahon, North America Agriculture Program Director

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

"RCPP is unique among conservation programs in its focus on targeted, project-based partnerships. Through RCPP, non-federal partners will bring their vast expertise to the table to help NRCS engage farmers and facilitate project implementation, including outreach, education, monitoring, and reporting. NSAC helped create RCPP and we are delighted to see its timely roll out."

"This is a major win for farm and sustainable agriculture organizations across the county. These organizations have the expertise and relationships necessary to reach, recruit, and mobilize farmers, provide conservation planning assistance, and conduct monitoring and evaluation of project outcomes; however, they generally lack the financial resources necessary to do such work. The decision to make such funding available through RCPP is a big step forward in making these new partnerships viable." Greg Fogel, Senior Policy Specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Southwestern Water Conservation District

"We have more and more pressure on the water supply. We're hoping this will provide incentives for people to implement some conservation practices that will help meet the demands on Colorado River basin. We hope building these partnerships between different interest groups will help everyone use our water wisely in the future." Bruce Whitehead, Executive Director

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

"One of the outstanding fruits of the 2014 Farm Bill is being harvested today. The RCPP program, combined with the Conservation Reserve Program, will produce huge benefits throughout the agricultural landscape. It is a chance for sportsmen to step up and engage effectively in the new Farm Bill – and in conservation efforts that will directly benefit important fish and wildlife habitat." Whit Fosburgh, President and CEO

Trout Unlimited

"We commend Secretary Vilsack, NRCS Chief Jason Weller, and the staff who worked so hard to move forward quickly on implementing the RCPP program. These regional programs will harness like never before the incredible power of conservation-minded farmers, ranchers and foresters with the innovation and can-do spirit of partners such as Trout Unlimited, states, conservation districts and others. It's a great matchup, and America's hunters, anglers and outdoor recreationists of all stripes will reap the rewards." Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs

The World Wildlife Fund's Northern Great Plains program

"By prioritizing America's prairie grasslands as a Critical Conservation Area, the USDA is providing a much-needed boost to safeguarding this unique ecosystem and the people, wildlife, and livelihoods it supports. With more than 75% of the land in the Northern Great Plains in private hands, farmers and ranchers will continue to play an especially critical role as stewards of these lands under this program. Rapid change is becoming the new normal in the Northern Great Plains with energy development fragmenting the rangelands of the west and drainage and cultivation impacting the pothole areas of the east. These changes are reshaping the landscape and impacting local communities and livelihoods. This program will foster the kind of transformative partnerships with private landowners needed to sustain agriculture and conserve the prairie and its water, soil, air and wildlife." Martha Kauffman, Managing Director

USA Rice Federation

"Today marks the start of what our industry believes will be an exciting new chapter in working lands conservation that can benefit rice lands, waterfowl habitat, and water resources, three critical resources throughout the U.S. We greatly appreciate the quick work of USDA officials and staff to move forward with implementation of RCPP in such a timely manner and we look forward to working closely with them as we pursue a partnership opportunity for the U.S. rice industry." Betsy Ward, President and CEO

Walton Family Foundation

We applaud the USDA's announcement today that the Colorado and Mississippi River basins will be included as critical conservation areas in the agency's new Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The new initiative, part of USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, is a Farm Bill conservation program that will focus on locally-driven projects that restore rivers, improve water quality and support economies across the country.

The Colorado and Mississippi River basins are priority geographies for WFF's environmental investments in the U.S. Through this initiative, WFF looks forward to continuing and expanding our partnership with USDA, leveraging our conservation investments with new federal dollars to accelerate conservation efforts on the ground.

This program will open up new opportunities for the foundation to collaborate with USDA and landowners in the Colorado and Mississippi River basins to:

  • Increase the efficiency of irrigation practices to improve river flows and water quality in the Colorado River basin
  • Remove invasive plants along rivers to restore native vegetation in the Colorado River basin
  • Reduce nutrient loss and improve water quality in the Mississippi River basin
  • Retire frequently flooded farmland to allow for wetlands restoration in the Mississippi River basin

The Walton Family Foundation believes that conservation solutions that make economic sense are the ones that stand the test of time. The goals of the USDA's new initiative complements the foundation's goal of pursuing lasting conservation solutions for rivers while also recognizing the role these waters play in the livelihoods of those who live and work nearby. The foundation believes that lasting stewardship of rivers in the Mississippi and Colorado River basins will benefit from an engaged and sustainable agricultural community.

Learn more about Regional Conservation partnerships by watching the USDA Venture Conservationist - USDA's Regional Conservation Partnership ProgramThis is an external link or third-party site outside of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website. video.