USDA announces up to $50 million over 5 years for conservation efforts in Red River Basin

  • Article by: KEVIN BURBACH , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 2, 2014 - 2:25 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. — The U.S Department of Agriculture will provide up to $50 million over the next five years for conservation programs in the Red River Basin in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Democratic Minnesota U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson announced Wednesday.

The funding, which comes from the 2014 Farm Bill, will be distributed through the USDA'S Natural Resources Conservation Service and be used to minimize flooding, boost soil health, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat in the 25 million-acre watershed. The funding will provide financial incentives to landowners, ranchers and farmers who make conservation efforts, such as restoring and protecting wetlands and grasslands.

Collin and Vilsack announced the funding during a trip to Moorhead. They were joined by members of the North Dakota and Minnesota congressional delegations.

"We are using the full set of tools in the conservation toolbox to create positive change in this area," Vilsack said in a written statement. "Our science-based conservation programs have a proven track record of supporting agricultural business, rural economies and improving sustainability across the county."

The Red River is home to some of the United States' most productive farmland and is part of the nation's Prairie Pothole Region. Prairie potholes are shallow depressions that are wetlands and are commonly found in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Montana. The region provides important breeding and nesting habitat for more than 60 percent of the nation's migratory waterfowl. The Dakotas especially are hotbeds for pheasant and duck hunting.

In February, the federal government announced it would set aside $35 million over three years to help landowners conserve wetlands and grasslands in the five-state Prairie Pothole Region.

Roger Smith, the director of conservation services for Ducks Unlimited in the Great Plains, said the Red River Basin isn't the highest-priority region for the conservation group, but said it supports conservation efforts regardless of where they're done.

"We're happy to see the USDA acknowledge that conservation is important and we like seeing incentive-based conservation on private land," Smith said.

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