Texas has record year for conservation practices funding
TEMPLE -- While 2011 will most likely be remembered by Texans for the drought and wildfires that ravaged the landscape, it was also a record year for efforts to conserve land and water resources in the state.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, according to a Dec. 30 press release, provided a record level of technical and financial assistance to Texas landowners during the year to help them implement conservation practices on nearly 6,000 square miles of agricultural land.
The Conservation Service worked with thousands of Texas farmers and ranchers, investing $121.4 million in conservation programs authorized by the federal Farm Bill to help protect water, soil and air resources, wildlife, forests, and rangelands throughout the state. These program dollars were distributed in counties across the entire state to help producers offset the cost of implementing the conservation practices, with producers paying approximately 50 percent of the costs out of their own pockets, doubling the investment in our environment.
In 2011, Texas producers implemented conservation practices on 3.8 million acres through 7,052 Farm Bill program contracts. This compares to 2.9 million acres and 6,742 contracts in 2010. The funding was distributed through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s easement programs.
In 2011, conservation plans were written on 9.9 million acres in Texas to improve water and soil quality, increase irrigation efficiency, enhance wildlife habitat, develop agriculture waste management plans, and to create, protect or restore wetlands.
The Texas Natural Resources Conservation Service programs are beneficial beyond their impact on the environment. Conservation programs impact local economies with changes in production, recreation, jobs, taxes, and spending. Based on economic studies, these conservation programs maintained or created thousands of jobs within the state in 2011. In Texas, it is estimated that each dollar of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and private matching expenditures on the Natural Resources Conservation programs generates an additional $2.54 in sales of goods and services.
More than $85 million was obligated for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, a voluntary conservation program, which awards financial assistance to projects that provide significant environmental benefit to Texas’ working lands. The incentive program is a broad program that can provide conservation assistance for soil, water quality and quantity, air quality, forest health, wildlife habitat, and energy.
More than $5.3 million was obligated for the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, a sub-program under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, for farmers and ranchers to implement agricultural water enhancement activities for the purposes of conserving surface and ground water and improving water quality.
Additionally, $9.9 million was allocated for the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, to improve Texas’s critical wildlife habitats.
In 2011, $15.7 million in the Conservation Stewardship Program funds was used to encourage farmers and ranchers to further enhance their level of conservation.