In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, NASF and a long list of other conservation organizations raised concerns regarding a major change to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). In short, the new fiscal year (FY) 2020-2021 RCPP Classic Application for Public Funding (APF) includes implementation guidance that could prevent most forestland in America from being eligible for the program.
Instead of clarifying anything, [the change in language] offers a different definition and eligibility than has been the standard practice for decades for numerous NRCS and USFS programs. The language is broad—it effects all sizes and types of landowners, as well as the enrollment of forest easements and forest conservation practices… [and] is creating confusion among RCPP partners, who are hearing different interpretations from various NRCS State offices. Partners are unable to rely on NRCS State office recommendations, because they fear that in several years when they try to enroll a project, NRCS could prevent eligibility at that stage, using the APF language as the authority. RCPP relies on contributing partners—other federal, state, local, and private funds, who line up their funds and resources to complement a RCPP proposal. These partners need certainty on what is eligible for the program, and without it, they may take their dollars elsewhere.
The language unfairly restricts forest land eligibility compared with agricultural land eligibility, which has no similar restriction. We do not support this type of restriction for either type of land use. The APF language is inconsistent with other USDA programs that also enroll nonindustrial private forest land, like EQIP, CSP and FSP. Those programs do not use this restrictive language, and it would be detrimental if they did.
Forest land conservation and practices are critical needs for our country right now, for addressing water quality, improving air quality, preventing wildfires, protecting wildlife habitat, and supporting local communities, including forestry jobs. RCPP is one of the nation’s leading programs that can address the needs, while leveraging partner funds. RCPP forest funding has been successful in restoring America’s Longleaf Pine, securing Sentinel Landscapes, conserving Gulf of Mexico waters, and giving private forest landowners across the nation the tools to address both environmental and economic needs for their lands. NRCS must continue to address these needs, as authorized, and abandon the current APF language that threatens to undermine these ongoing conservation efforts.
Read the letter in full by clicking the link below.