April 20, 2020

Wyden, Merkley: Three Natural Resources Projects in Oregon Earn $7.3 Million in Federal Support

Ag Dept. funds will support Lower John Day Canyons Restoration Initiative, South Fork John Day Watershed Restoration and Polk County Oak Habitat Restoration projects

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today that the federal Agriculture Department will invest a combined $7.3 million in three natural resources projects in Oregon.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funds from the department’s Natural Resources Service will go in Oregon to the Lower John Day Canyons Restoration Initiative, South Fork John Day Watershed Restoration and Polk County Oak Habitat Restoration projects.

“This trio of Oregon projects taps into our state’s deep reservoir of collaboration, creativity and conservation to make Oregon an even better place to live and work,” Wyden said. “I am glad Oregonians statewide will benefit from these initial projects awarded under the 2018 Farm Bill, and know these three habitat improvement projects building on local experts’ long-term relationships with ranchers and natural resource agencies will set the standard for the entire country to follow.” 

“Responsible stewardship of our land has been woven into the spirit of our state for generations,” said Merkley, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the USDA. “These multi-million dollar investments in three of our spectacular ecosystems is in keeping with that tradition and will make for stronger rural communities now and into the future.”

“I’m excited to announce the first RCPP awards under the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Ron Alvarado, State Conservationist in Oregon. “Through collaboration and aligning our resources toward a common goal, we’re making an impact for natural resource conservation that could never have been realized on our own.”

RCPP uses a partner-driven approach to fund innovative solutions to natural resource challenges. Through RCPP, the federal government and partners work together with private landowners and producers to implement a variety of conservation activities, including land management practices and systems, short-term land rentals, conservation easements and watershed structures. The mix of conservation activities carried out under each project is dependent on a project’s goals, objectives and conservation benefits.

The RCPP funds in Oregon will be distributed as follows: 

  • $3.9 million for the Lower John Day Canyons Restoration Initiative led by the Gilliam Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). The project will enhance more than 40 miles of Mid-Columbia Steelhead habitat in the Lower John Day Basin. The project will include restoration activities, such as the installation of fences, manufactured beaver dam structures and riparian plantings to improve native fish habitat. In addition to USDA’s $3.9 million, the Gilliam SWCD with contribute more than $4 million to the project.
  • $1.7 million for the South Fork John Day Watershed Restoration led by the South Fork John Day Watershed Council. The project will engage producers in implementing a diverse set of land management activities to improve and restore agricultural lands in the watershed. The South Fork John Day Watershed Council will match USDA’s $1.7 million for restoration activities, which include invasive species removal, forest restoration and rotational grazing.
  • $1.7 million for the Polk County Oak Habitat Restoration 2020 led by the Polk Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). The project will enhance and restore oak habitat and associated wildlife species on private lands in Polk County. The project will create habitat corridors that traverse the county, adding increased wildlife forage and unobstructed travel from and between neighboring counties. The partners also plan to acquire three permanently conserved tribal ancestral lands through the Willamette Wildlife mitigation fund, and to instill a deeper commitment to maintaining oak habitat among private landowners.

“Gilliam and Wheeler counties have been working with conservation partners and NRCS for decades to improve and restore habitat in a way that respects local communities,” said Herb Winters, District Manager of the Gilliam Soil and Water Conservation District. “We greatly appreciate our Oregon senators’ steadfast commitment to this important Farm Bill program.  Senator Wyden and his staff have been particularly helpful in facilitating a positive working relationship with federal partners, and that has been instrumental to our progress.   

“The South Fork John Day Watershed Council is very excited for this opportunity to work with private landowners and USDA NRCS, and want to thank all of our partners that have helped us in putting together this comprehensive whole watershed restoration strategy -- especially instrumental have been the private landowners, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Ochoco & Malheur National Forests, Prineville BLM, and ODFW,” said Amy Stiner, coordinator for South Fork John Day Watershed Council.  “The time and effort that our senators have put into maintaining the Farm Bill is critical for supporting agriculture, and we especially thank Senator Wyden and his staff for their participation and assistance in bringing all stakeholders to the table for the South Fork John Day Watershed.” 

Nationally, NRCS is investing $206 million for 48 partner-driven conservation projects across 29 states, while leveraging nearly $300 million in partner contributions. 

Though RCPP was first authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, the 2018 Farm Bill made changes to strengthen the program and simplify its rules.  RCPP is now a stand-alone program with $300 million annually available for partner-driven projects.