ELLENDALE, MINN., APRIL 22, 2005 AT 11:30 AM EDT - Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced that more than 830,000 acres of wetlands have been restored, created, protected and improved through the cooperative conservation efforts of federal and state governments, private landowners and nongovernmental organizations since President Bush announced his Wetlands Initiative on Earth Day one year ago.
"Last year President Bush challenged us -federal agencies in cooperation with America's citizens - to go beyond the federal policy of "no net loss" of wetlands to improve, restore and protect three million acres of wetlands in five years," said Johanns. "I'm pleased to demonstrate today that our conservation efforts are achieving tangible results-cleaner air and water, healthier soil and improved fish and wildlife habitat."
Johanns made the announcement during an Earth Day celebration here with Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, with Congressman Gil Gutknecht also in attendance. Johanns and Pawlenty also signed the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) - Minnesota II agreement, which will help improve water quality and wildlife habitat on 120,000 acres in three watersheds of the State. These 15-year CREP contracts, supplemented with longer-term state easements, will provide benefits of $250 million, with USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) contributing $200 million and the State of Minnesota funding $50 million. The CREP agreement is a partnership with USDA, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Watershed Districts and other partners.
USDA has made significant progress in the past 12 months as 371,826 acres of wetlands have been restored, enhanced or protected through USDA voluntary conservation programs.
USDA's primary programs to help farmers and ranchers conserve wetlands are the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP), administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and CREP, administered by FSA. Additional information about these programs and other key USDA accomplishments is featured on an Earth Day Backgrounder.
Johanns today also announced the signing of the Louisiana Lower Ouachita River Basin CREP. The Louisiana CREP, which targets the enrollment of 50,000 acres in the Bayou Macon and Boeuf River Watersheds, will improve water quality in two major Louisiana watersheds.
USDA Announces More Than $143 Million in Community Water/Wasterwater Infrastructure Loans and Grants In Celebration of Earth Day
Johanns also highlighted $143.4 million in investments to 29 states by the Bush Administration today for rural water and waste disposal loans and grants to assist 59 rural communities with environmentally sound waste disposal and safe drinking water systems.
Funding for these projects is comprised of $76.2 million in loans and $67.1 million in grants. A part of the total is $3.5 million in Solid Waste Management Grants and $18 million in Technical Assistance and Training Grants. The technical assistance and training grants go to nonprofit organizations to provide technical assistance and training on a wide range of issues relating to the delivery of water and waste disposal services.
The Solid Waste Management Grants are made to public and private nonprofit organizations for providing technical assistance and training to associations to reduce or eliminate pollution of water resources and improve planning and management of solid waste facilities. Small communities are facing greater challenges today in the management of solid waste problems.
A complete list of the selected loan and grant recipients and projects can be found at http://www.rd.usda.gov/
Top USDA and Forest Service Officials Celebrate Earth Day in Colorado; Research Findings on Fire Rehab Released
David Tenny, USDA deputy under secretary for Natural Resources and Environment and Sally Collins, associate chief of the Forest Service, today visited the site of the largest wildfire ever recorded in Colorado history to announce cutting-edge research findings on cost-effective fire rehabilitation treatments, which will help forest managers to better deal with post-fire recovery efforts nationwide.
"Good science is essential in helping land managers restore and protect our forest and rangeland health as called for in the President's Healthy Forests Initiative," said Tenny. "Today's research findings can be used for fire rehabilitation efforts nationwide for cost-effective, science-based management practices."
They also joined state officials and conservation organizations in reducing erosion and protecting a threatened species on the popular Gill Trail on the Pike & San Isabel National Forest. The 2002 Hayman Fire had devastated the trail.
The President's Healthy Forests Initiative
In addition to rehabilitation, the President's Healthy Forests Initiative is restoring fire-adapted ecosystems at an unprecedented rate. President Bush introduced the Healthy Forests Initiative in August 2002 during one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in 50 years. Signed into law in December 2003, the Healthy Forests Initiative focuses on reducing the risk of catastrophic fire by thinning dense undergrowth and brush in priority locations that are on a collaborative basis with selected Federal, state, tribal, and local officials and communities. The initiative also provides for more timely responses to disease and insect infestations that threaten to devastate forests. Additional information on the Healthy Forest Initiative is available at http://www.fs.fed.us
"Dust Bowl Days" Remembered in Oklahoma
Today, USDA's Farm Service Agency is celebrating Earth Day on the farm of Jimmie Draper near Guymon, Oklahoma to commemorate the 70th anniversary of 'Black Sunday' - April 14, 1935 - when a massive wall of dust covered the Oklahoma Panhandle. In response to the dire need to control soil erosion in the West and Oklahoma in particular, Congress passed the Soil Conservation Act of 1936, which promoted soil conservation. This Act marked the beginnings of the development of today's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
The acreage enrolled by the Draper farm is among nearly 35 million acres enrolled in CRP on over 400,000 farms and ranches in America. The CRP is USDA's largest conservation program. Since its inception in 1986, CRP has produced environmental benefits estimated at $2 billion annually. Benefits include reduced soil erosion, improved water quality and wildlife habitat and reduced atmospheric carbon.
Additional information on USDA conservation programs can be found at www.nrcs.usda.gov/programsand http://www.fsa.usda.gov/. More information on government-wide Earth Day activities can be found at www.Earthday.gov