USDA Farm Bill & NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program
April 10, 2016
For decades, the USDA Farm Bill has supported the voluntary conservation efforts of private landowners; it is the most important tool enacted by Congress for conserving habitat on private lands. Farm Bill conservation programs fund easements to protect agricultural lands, efforts to protect at-risk species on working lands, technical advisors to help landowners improve their operations while conserving natural resources, and much more.
Under the Farm Bill, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has several incentive programs that assist landowners, land trusts, and other conservation organizations with implementing habitat conservation. NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is a financial and technical assistance program funded through the Farm Bill that helps landowners cover the expense of managing their land for wildlife habitat by implementing approved conservation practices. EQIP can also act as a resource for land trusts and landowners by providing information about management practices that optimize environmental benefits on working agricultural land and non-industrial forestland.
For example, funding may be targeted to improve habitat quality for a species of concern like the Golden-winged Warbler through the Working Lands for Wildlife program, a partnership program under EQIP between NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To restore shrubland and young forest habitat for Golden-winged Warblers and other wildlife, EQIP conservation practices fall into two categories: shrubland—restoration through succession “resets,” or forestry—improving forest stewardship and wildlife habitat. Within these two categories are a variety of habitat management practices, including selective tree cutting, wildlife opening—an even-aged stand cut, feathered edge, brush management, invasive plant treatment, and shrub establishment in some scenarios.
The recommended first step for a land trust or other private landowner with interest in applying for a USDA-NRCS conservation program is to stop by your local NRCS office to talk to a conservation planner. Discuss the goals for your land and decide which program and conservation practices best address these goals and existing resource concerns. Then complete an NRCS-CPA-1200 program application. Applications are ranked for funding according to resource concerns addressed and the amount of conservation benefit the practices will provide. Applicants may reapply every year if not funded initially.
A terrific resource for understanding Farm Bill programs and funding opportunities is the Farm Bill Field Guide created by the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture.