Agency in Brief: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
What does the agency do, why does it matter for TU, and what are the key programs and partnerships that affect our work?
**This post is a work in progress: please bear with us as we update the information and check back soon for additional content.
Overview of USDA programs and priorities of particular interest for Trout Unlimited
What does the Department of Agriculture Do?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the federal executive department responsible for developing and executing federal laws related farming, agriculture, forestry and food. It aims to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers, to promote agricultural production, ensure food safety and protect natural resources. The acting secretary of the USDA is Sonny Perdue.
How does the USDA Connect to TU’s Mission?
The USDA engages in a number of collaborative conservation efforts supported by various agencies within the greater Department. Conservation program funding through the USDA is a crucial component of TU’s work on watersheds across the country.
The USDA oversees two agencies of particular interest to TU priorities: (1) The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and (2) The U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
USDA: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
How does the NRCS Connect to TU’s Mission? The Farm Bill’s conservation programs support TU’s partnerships with farmers and ranchers to restore streams and enhance watershed health.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP):
The RCCP program is an innovation contained in the 2012 Farm Bill re-authorization, which was passed with the help of TU members around the country who advocated for strong Farm Bill conservation programs. The RCPP promotes coordination between NRCS and its partners to deliver conservation assistance to producers and landowners, yielding landscape scale restoration for fisheries.
- Rogue River RCPP (Michigan): TU and partners use RCPP program to support restoration in the Rogue River’s Lower Grand River Watershed. In the Rogue River, as part of TU’s Home Rivers Initiative, approximately $2 million will support conservation agreements and help agricultural landowners to implement best practices to address water quality concerns
TU is a partner on the RCPP funds awarded in the Lower Grand River watershed. Around $1.5 million will be secured for agricultural practices in the Rogue River watershed and TU will play a large role in outreach and education efforts to these landowners with the local NRCS.
$10 million in federal funding, that will be matched by private investments, to support land and water conservation in the Lower Grand River Watershed and Huron River Watershed. Support for these two projects — as well as six ongoing projects in Michigan — comes through the 2014 Farm Bill’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, authored by Stabenow
$8 Million — Lower Grand River Watershed Habitat Restoration — Farmland Conservation Project
The Farmland Conservation Project will receive $8,000,000 to help farmers and landowners address water quality concerns, restore habitats for fish and wildlife, and revitalize 2.5 miles of the Lower Grand River Watershed. The Grand Valley Metro Council and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will partner with over 20 local organizations on this project. The Lower Grand River Watershed includes the City of Grand Rapids as well as Northern Kent, Newaygo and Muskegon Counties.
- Upper Klamath RCPP (N.California/S.Oregon):
Key NRCS Programs and partnerships
- USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) — In Pennsylvania, scientists from the USDA ARS have provided invaluable technical assistance and collaboration to TU and partners to develop a new best management practice that uses mine drainage residuals to control phosphorus pollution from land-applied animal manure. Phosphorus is a major form of nutrient pollution that impairs the Chesapeake Bay watershed and this innovative best management practice promises a winning combination for both the cleanup of abandoned mine drainage and efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): provides assistance to landowners to help them improve the quality of soil, water, and other related natural resources.
- Conservation Stewardship Program: Targeted to agricultural producers who maintain higher levels of environmental stewardship.
- Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP): includes technical and financial help to maintain and improve land for agricultural or environmental benefits.
- Healthy Forest Reserve Program: Landowners volunteer to restore and protect forests — promotes the recovery of endangered and threatened species; improves plant and animal biodiversity; enhances carbon sequestration.
Concerns about Budget Cuts to NRCS?
With a 21% budget cut to the Department of Agriculture amounting to $4.7 billion, and with less than $1 billion specifically identified in the Trump Administration’s budget for eliminating programs or budget cuts, TU urges full funding of the Farm Bill’s Conservation Title to support America’s farmers and ranchers as stewards of the land.
USDA: The U.S. Forest Service (USFS)
What is the USFS?
The US Forest Service is a USDA agency that administers the nation’s 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands, encompasses 193 million acres. The USFS stated mission is “to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” The chief of the USFS is Tom Tidwell; he has been the chief of the USFS for almost 8 years. Unlike the Secretary of Agriculture, the chief of the USFS is not appointed by the President.
How does the USFS Connect to TU’s Mission?
The USFS works directly with private land owners and other partners to conserve forests and the wildlife that live there. TU’s main goal of conservation to continue recreation is encapsulated in many USFS programs.
Key programs and partnerships:
- Legacy Roads and Remediation: This program keeps roads and trails in national forests updated to ensure the surrounding habitat is healthy. Under the program the Forest Service can strive to reduce the risk of mass failures and subsequent impact on streams, restore natural surface and subsurface drainage patterns, restore vegetation and site productivity, and restore stream channels at road crossings and where roads run adjacent . Legacy Roads and Remediation addresses serious maintenance issues that can hurt fish habitats, among other important wildlife. Its Stream Simulation Design technique is proven to be effective at creating habitat connectivity for fish and wildlife and improving infrastructure resiliency.
- Forest Legacy Program (FLP): FLP works with private landowners to conserve working forests in conservation easements, allowing lands threatened by development to maintain timber harvest while providing important fish habitat and maintaining stream quality. Thanks to FLP and other funding sources, Maine completed the Cold Stream project, an acquisition of 8,000 acres containing 12 miles of stream and native brook trout ponds. The project will protect more brook trout pond populations than exist in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire combined. The Forest Services desired outcomes include the protection of important scenic, cultural, fish, wildlife, and recreational resources, riparian areas, and other ecological values.
- Wildlife and Fisheries Habitat Management: The funding from this program allows TU to partner with the Forest Service to restore trout and salmon habitat on National Forests across the country. Through projects like stream-bank stabilization, riparian re-vegetation, and removal of fish passage barriers, these partnerships benefit fish and maintain water quality for bodies of water on and downstream from Forest Service lands.
- Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness: There are multiple programs that fall under the Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness title. These program provide recreational benefits including access, services, and infrastructure for fishing and hunting on Forest Service lands. Protection of cultural and heritage sites, as well as recreational uses of these sites, are a priority to TU and the Forest Service.
- Stewardship Contracting: The Forest Stewardship Program encourages long-term stewardship of important State and private forest landscapes, by assisting landowners to more actively manage their forest and related resources. TU supports many of the goals for the stewardship program, such as restore water quality and the improvement of fish habitat.
Concerns about Budget Cuts to USFS?
Legacy Roads and Remediation along with the Forest Legacy program have been eliminated by the Presidents FY18 budget. The FY18 budget has cut about 11% of the Wildlife and Fisheries Habitat Management program’s funding. Recreation, Heritage, and Wilderness has seen a small cut of 3% to its funding. TU is concerned by the cuts to these programs because they are often used to upkeep national land that effects fish habitat. TU supports conservation and sustainability of land in order to ensure the protection of important wildlife. Stewardship Contracting has fortunately seen no cuts to its budgets, giving the Forest Service, TU, and other partners a hand in conservation on privately owned land.