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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and partners across the nation together will direct up to $720 million towards 84 conservation projects that will help communities improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability.

These projects make up the second round of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) created by the 2014 Farm Bill.

Through the 2015 and 2016 rounds, USDA and partners are investing up to $1.5 billion in 199 strategic conservation projects. Projects are selected on a competitive basis, and local private partners must be able to at least match the USDA commitment.

For this round, USDA received 265 applications requesting nearly $900 million, or four times the amount of available federal funding. The 84 projects selected for 2016 include proposed partner matches totaling over $500 million, more than tripling the federal investment alone.

Three of these projects will bring conservation to Wisconsin.

Driftless Area (DA) Habitat for the Wild and Rare: NRCS investment of $2.9 million to assist Trout Unlimited and 30 other partners in restoring prairie, oak woodlands and streams for the benefit of the many at-risk species and abundant concentrations of native species found in the DA landscape.

Milwaukee River Watershed Conservation Partnership: NRCS investment of $1.5 million to assist the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and 18 other partners in implementing conservation solutions that will improve water quality and soil quality along the impaired Milwaukee River corridor.

Improving Working Lands for Monarch Butterflies: NRCS investment of $6 million to assist the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and 12 other partners in restoring, managing and conserving wildlife habitat for monarch butterflies on agricultural and tribal lands.

'We put out a call for innovative and results-focused projects that will deliver the most conservation impact,' said Jimmy Bramblett, NRCS State Conservationist in Wisconsin. 'Our partners answered with creative, locally-led approaches to help producers support their ongoing business operations and address natural resource challenges in their communities, here in Wisconsin, and across the nation.'

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program puts local partners in the driver's seat to accomplish environmental goals that are most meaningful to that community. Joining together public and private resources also harnesses innovation that neither sector could implement alone, Vilsack said.

'We have seen record enrollment of privately owned lands in USDA's conservation programs under this Administration, and the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program will be instrumental in building on those numbers and demonstrating that government and private entities can work together for greater impacts on America's communities,' Vilsack said.

RCPP draws on local knowledge and networks to fuel conservation projects. Bringing together a wide variety of new partners including businesses, universities, non-profits and local and Tribal governments makes it possible to deliver innovative, landscape- and watershed-scale projects that improve water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, soil health and other natural resource concerns on working farms, ranches and forests.

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