New Farm Bill Program Helps Habitat from Sea to Shining Sea

For your Fourth of July celebration, are you planning to get outdoors, and enjoy picnics, fireworks, and maybe some good music? Music was always a big part of the Fourth of July for my family. Songs like “America the Beautiful” and “Proud to be an American” were my favorite, maybe because they are full of natural imagery. Lyrics like “from sea to shining sea” or “from the lakes of Minnesota, to the hills of Tennessee” celebrate the American landscape that National Wildlife Federation works to preserve. A new program from the 2014 Farm Bill provides an opportunity to protect critical landscapes by allowing local partners to leverage federal resources toward projects in their area.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) provides a way for local partners to team up with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and use federal financial and technical assistance to work with farmers, forest owners, and other landowners to implement conservation practices that will benefit land, water, and wildlife in their region. For example, water utilities could team up with local agricultural groups in the Mississippi River Basin and start a project to help farmers reduce water pollution from agricultural runoff by installing conservation practices, like cover crops.

The RCPP funding is separated into 3 categories: national, state, and eight regional critical conservation areas (CCA’s). Each CCA contains uniquely important wildlife habitat. Here are a few species who could benefit from the RCPP.

Monarch butterfly on goldenrod. Andrew MacLachlin/USFWS, via flickr
Monarch butterfly on goldenrod.  Photo by: Andrew MacLachlin/USFWS, via flickr

Monarch Butterfly

America’s grasslands are one of the world’s most rapidly disappearing ecosystems, and recent conversion of native prairie to agricultural land is a major threat to pollinators, grassland songbirds, and migratory birds who depend on the prairies.

The new RCPP designated the prairie grasslands as a critical conservation area, sweeping from the Great Plains to the Midwest down to Texas. This is a great opportunity for partners to work together to restore quality habitat on these private lands, and maybe plant some milkweed for monarchs journeying north.



Diamondback terrapin. Trisha M. Shears/Wikimedia
Diamondback terrapin. Trisha M. Shears/Wikimedia

Chesapeake Bay Turtles

The diamondback terrapin is the state reptile of Maryland and the University of Maryland mascot. The terrapin depends on the Chesapeake Bay tidal marshes for food and habitat. The Bay has had some major problems with agricultural pollution for some time, especially manure from livestock and poultry operations.

The RCPP can help farmers in the Bay watershed work to keep the Bay clean by:

  • installing manure digesters,
  • planting cover crops, or
  • using a nutrient management plan.



Spinner dolphins
Spinner dolphins. Photo by Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA.

Dolphins and Quail

The Mississippi River Basin (MRB) critical conservation area spans 13 states from the Midwest to the Delta, and it all drains to the Gulf of Mexico. Polluted runoff from agricultural land in the Basin is contributing to the degradation of the Gulf, where dolphins and other aquatic life make their home.

Putting more conservation practices on agricultural land in the Midwest will improve water quality in the Gulf and locally, as well. For example, cover crops reduce the amount of pollution running off into the water, but they also create forage and cover for wildlife like bobwhite quail.

These are just a few of the wildlife species that stand to gain from the RCPP; critical conservation areas also include the longleaf pine range of the Southeast, the Great Lakes, the Columbia and Colorado River Basins, and the California Bay Delta region.

The deadline to apply to the RCPP is July 14, so it’s not too late for local partners (like NWF affiliates!) to submit a pre-proposal. Fortunately, it’s an annual program for the next 5 years, so if you miss it this year, it’s not too early to start planning to apply in 2015.