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ONALASKA, WI

Conservation partners in Wisconsin and Minnesota are teaming up to help restore at-risk species in the states' Driftless area.

Jimmy Bramblett, Wisconsin State Conservationist, and Cathee Pullman, Minnesota State Conservationist, announced the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service will make an 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 Wisconsin and Minnesota Driftless Area (DA).

Funding is made available through the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

'The RCPP program puts local partners in the driver's seat; locally lead conservation is working at its best,' said Pullman.

The DA was bypassed by the last continental glacier and features steep valleys, sandstone bluffs and more than 600 unique spring-fed creeks and ridges once covered in prairie and scattered oaks. This ancient landscape supports a variety of plants and animals, including dozens of uncommon species of birds of woodland and grassland habitats, reptiles and amphibians, and abundant populations of native fish found in the high concentration of cold-water streams.

The DA's diversity of habitat provides critical habitat for dozens of species of concern in the State Wildlife Action Plans, and has been cited as one of North America's most important resources.

Early agricultural practices that were not suitable for the unique landscape of the DA resulted in severe erosion and sedimentation. Land use practices and conservation efforts have helped heal the land, but the legacy of the past damage is still visible in the valleys and steep stream banks.

'For the past nine years, Trout Unlimited's Driftless Area Restoration Effort has been working with partners to restore structural diversity, ecological function and overall health,' said Duke Welter, Trout Unlimited. 'The Driftless area is Trout Unlimited's largest watershed restoration project in the country and we are excited to continue this effort.'

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.

'RCPP helps local partners dictate local land priorities; the work we do on private lands can make a large impact; over 80 percent of lands in the DA are privately owned,' said Bramblett.

Welter said that landowners want to be good stewards of their land and water.

'With this funding and partnership with NRCS, we can help them do that,' said Welter. 'We can protect our resources significantly more when we apply conservation restoration techniques with this project opportunity.'

Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, working with as many as 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect over 400 million acres nationwide, boosting soil and air quality, cleaning and conserving water and enhancing wildlife habitat.

More information on RCPP visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/wi/programs/farmbill/rcpp/.

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