Environment & Weather
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Disaster Assistance to Producers and Communities in 33 States and Puerto Rico PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by USDA Communications Office   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 15:42
Funding Will Help Producers, Landowners and Communities Rebuild and Repair Damaged Land after Year of Extreme Weather

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2012—Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today an important package of disaster assistance to help farmers, land owners, communities and others recover and rebuild after a year in which a wave of natural disasters swept across all regions of the United States. The funding, totaling $308 million, provides financial and technical assistance to help rebuild and repair land damaged on account of flooding, drought, tornadoes and other natural disasters in 33 states and Puerto Rico. Funding is provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) as well as the Farm Service Agency's Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP).

"Landowners, individuals and communities have endured incredible hardships because of the intensity and volume of natural disasters that have impacted their livelihoods," said Vilsack. "America's farmers and rural communities are vitally important to our nation's economy, producing the food, feed, fiber and fuel that continue to help us grow. This funding will help to rebuild communities, while states can use the funds to carry out emergency recovery measures. At the same time, this assistance keeps farmers on the farm, ranchers on the ranch, and landowners on their land, helping to keep American agriculture profitable."

The Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) will contribute $215.7 million to provide financial and technical assistance to address public safety and restoration efforts on private, public and tribal lands. When funding is allocated to a project, NRCS contracts the heavy construction work to local contractors, spurring creation of jobs. Typical projects funded under EWP include removing debris from waterways, protecting eroded stream banks, reseeding damaged areas, and in some cases, purchasing floodplain easements on eligible land. A list of states and their fiscal year 2012 EWP Program allocations can be viewed at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/landscape/ewpp.

The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) program will contribute $80 million to producers to help remove debris from farmland, restore livestock fences and conservation structures, provide water for livestock during periods of severe drought, and grade and shape farmland damaged by a natural disaster. FSA county committees determine eligibility based on on-site inspections of damaged land and considering the type and extent of damage. For land to be eligible, the natural disaster must create new conservation problems.

The Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) program will provide $12 million in payments to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) land in order to carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by a natural disaster.

A list of states and their fiscal year 2012 ECP and EFRP allocations can be viewed at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/20120108_ecp_efrp_table.pdf.

USDA works with state and local governments and private landowners to conserve and protect our nation's natural resources – helping preserve our land and clean our air and water. In 2010, President Obama launched the America's Great Outdoors initiative to foster a 21st century approach to conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people. During the past two years, USDA's conservation agencies—NRCS, FSA and the U.S. Forest Service—have delivered technical assistance and implemented restoration practices on public and private lands. At the same time, USDA is working to better target conservation investments to embrace locally driven conservation and entering partnerships that focus on large, landscape-scale conservation. In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion.

The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, implement the Farm Bill, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers.

A strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of American agriculture. To help keep American agriculture profitable, USDA immediately responds to disasters across the country, ranging from record floods, droughts and tropical storms, with direct support, disaster assistance, technical assistance, and access to credit. For example, USDA's crop insurance program insures 264 million acres, 1.14 million policies, and $110 billion worth of liability on about 500,000 farms. Over the past 3 years, USDA has paid out about $17.2 billion in crop insurance indemnities to more than 325,000 farmers who lost crops due to natural disasters. And in response to tighter financial markets, USDA has expanded the availability of farm credit, helping struggling farmers refinance loans. In the past 3 years, USDA provided 103,000 loans to family farmers totaling $14.6 billion. Over 50 percent of the loans went to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call (800) 795-3272 (Voice) or (202) 720-6382 (TDD).


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Deadline Extended for Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Elisha Smith   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 10:05

Center for Rural Affairs Offers Farm Bill Help Line to Assist Producers


Lyons, NE - USDA's National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently announced  that the deadline for producer applications for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has been extended to January 27, 2012.

While CSP is a continuous sign-up program and producers can apply to enroll at any time of the year, NRCS applies a cut-off date for applications to be considered during a particular fiscal year.  Once the cut-off date is past, producers may continue to apply for the program, but they will not be considered for entry until the spring of the following year, in this case spring of 2013. In order to enroll in 2012 applications must filed by January 27.

The Conservation Stewardship Program is a voluntary stewardship incentives program, administered by USDA's NRCS, designed to reward farmers, ranchers, and forestry producers to maintain existing conservation on working lands, as well as for the adoption of additional conservation measures that provide multiple environmental benefits that run beyond the farm or ranch. This program pays producers for clean water, better soil management, improved habitat, energy efficiency, and other natural resource benefits.

"We hope more farmers and ranchers will take advantage of this extension for the CSP application deadline. To meet this deadline, they just need to submit the basic application form to their local NRCS office," said Traci Bruckner, Assistant Director of Rural Policy at the Center for Rural Affairs.

CSP is one of the most popular conservation programs. In 2010 alone, nearly 21,000 applicants enrolled in CSP, putting additional conservation on 25.2 million acres, about the size of the state of Kentucky. Farmers and ranchers interested in applying should contact their local NRCS office as soon as possible to meet the deadline.

To sign up, producers should visit their NRCS local service center (http://offices.sc.egov.usda.gov/locator/app?agency=nrcs).

Bruckner is encouraging farmers, ranchers and others to call the Center for Rural Affairs' Farm Bill Helpline with questions about the application process and to share their experiences, both positive and negative. "We know the previous sign-ups have yielded some great success stories for farmers and ranchers, but also some disappointments and frustrations."

"We want this program to work for all farmers and ranchers employing conservation-based farming systems, and firmly believe the CSP is a step in the right direction for policy to financially reward historical commitments to conservation, as well as encourage further adoption," Bruckner continued. "This is a far better approach than paying to clean-up problems.”

Bruckner commented that it would be most useful for producers to have specific information available when they call, including a complete copy of their application materials, and more specifically the Conservation Measurement Tool responses and ranking information for their state or ranking area. The NRCS office will provide only a summary, unless specifically asked for a complete print out that includes their ranking information, the highest scores in their state or area, and how far down the ranking list NRCS was able to provide contracts before the money ran out for the last sign-up period.

"One of the main goals for our Farm Bill Helpline is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of programs such as the CSP," said Bruckner. "It is only with that information that we are able to push for any needed changes and improvements."

Producers can also receive guidance for applying for other conservation programs. "Through our helpline you will speak to someone who is knowledgeable about the program rules to help you understand how to participate in the program," Bruckner added. Producers can call (402) 687-2100 and ask for the Farm Bill Helpline or send an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Governor Quinn Announces Web Portal for Environmental Permitting Process PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Nafia Khan   
Friday, 13 January 2012 14:05

Illinois EPA Permitting Process is Now Faster and More Transparent

SPRINGFIELD – January 13, 2012. Governor Pat Quinn announced a new Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) online portal that will make the environmental permitting process more user-friendly by eliminating red tape for businesses in Illinois. It also increases transparency in the process by allowing applicants and other interested parties to track the progress of the Agency’s decision-making process. The portal is a result of Public Act 97-0094, which Governor Quinn signed last July.

“This process will help us grow our economy by cutting red tape for businesses, while also maintaining our strong commitment to the environment,” Governor Quinn said. “This site will allow companies to navigate the environmental permitting process more effectively and efficiently.”

“The improvements in the permitting process were developed in coordination with the Illinois business community with the goal of making compliance with environmental regulations less burdensome, yet without sacrificing protection of the state’s air, land and water, and public health,” said Illinois EPA Interim Director John Kim.

“The Illinois Environmental Regulatory Group, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, and the Agency developed this positive first step to implement permitting reforms.  The changes should markedly improve the Agency’s ability to respond to the needs of Illinois’ businesses, and will result in cost, time, and resource savings.  I commend the Agency for their fine work,” said Todd Maisch, vice president of government affairs for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to the new portal, several other measures have been or will be implemented in the near future that will increase efficiency and reduce the time it takes to receive an environmental permit in Illinois. One such tool is the Registration of Smaller Sources (ROSS) program tailored to smaller sources of air pollution, rather than requiring them to undergo the extensive permitting process that larger emissions sources must go through.

Among the features of the web portal (epa.state.il.us) are:

§  Application forms; many can be edited, saved and submitted electronically

§  Application checklists, instructions and guidance

§  Summary information on permitted projects

§  An online permit tracking system that gives the status of a pending application

In the coming months, the Illinois EPA will be working with the regulated community to implement additional process improvements that will further reduce time and cost burdens on both business and the agency, while still meeting the same environmental protection goals.

 

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NPS to Assist Iowa Communities with River and Trail Projects PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Kathy Kupper   
Friday, 13 January 2012 09:34

WASHINGTON—The National Park Service will help local communities implement more than 200 natural resource and recreational projects under the agency’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA), Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today.

Communities from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are working in partnership with the National Park Service.

This year, in Iowa, RTCA is working with:

·        Wapello County on the American Gothic Regional Trail

·        City of Des Moines on the Central Iowa Greenways Initiative

·        City of Cherokee, Iowa on the Cherokee Trails and Riverfront Development

·        Fayette County Trails on the Fayette County Trails

·        Decatur County Conservation on the Grand River Water Trail

·        Louisa County Conservation Board on the Louisa County Trail

·        Jones County Conservation and the City of Monticello on the Maquoketa River Restoration Mon Maq Dam Alteration

·        Carroll County Conservation on the Middle Raccoon River Water Trail

·        Mississippi River Trail, Inc. on the Mississippi River Connections Collaborative: Mississippi River Trail

·        Pottawattamie County Conservation on the Pottawattamie County Trail

·        Nishna Valley Trails Association on the T-Bone Trail

·        Whiterock Conservancy Iowa Department of Natural Resources on the Whiterock Conservancy Soft Trail Project

To read more about these projects, visit:

http://www.nps.gov/ncrc/programs/rtca/whatwedo/projects/IA.pdf

To see how RTCA is assisting communities nationwide, visit: http://www.nps.gov/ncrc/programs/rtca/whatwedo/projects_by_state.html

“One of the major goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative is to reconnect Americans to nature by expanding recreational opportunities,” Salazar said. “Through the RTCA program, the National Park Service will provide expertise and assistance to local communities that are building trails and undertaking other conservation and recreation projects.”

Under the RTCA program, the National Park Service helps communities and neighborhoods to preserve valuable open spaces, revitalize nearby rivers, and develop trail and greenway networks. This year’s projects were selected from the most competitive field of requests ever received by the agency.

Projects are locally conceived and initiated, with RTCA staff supporting community based recreation and conservation leaders. Each year, RTCA project partnerships contribute to the construction of 1,700 miles of trail, conservation of nearly 1,000 miles of river, and protection of more than 50,000 acres of open space.

More than 20 of the projects included in the RTCA project announcement today also were highlighted in the America’s Great Outdoors 50-State report released by Secretary Salazar in November. The report listed more than 100 high-priority projects representing what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country. Interior is working closely with states and local communities to advance these priority projects as quickly as possible.

For more information on the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance program, please visit http://www.nps.gov/rtca.

 
Winter Storm Watch: Winter driving expert available for interview PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Environment & Weather
Written by Claudia Carranza   
Wednesday, 11 January 2012 13:08
With winter weather ahead of us, many people become anxious behind the wheel. We have winter driving school experts who can teach your audience safety tips to help them handle winter driving conditions.

As Iowa faces the onset of winter storms, our national experts at the Bridgestone Winter Driving School, in Steamboat Springs, Colo., can offer tips on preparing the driver, the car and the family for the hazardous weather conditions. From avoiding skids on icy roads to ways to safely free your car if you become stuck in the snow, our experts’ information can help ensure the safety of your community members.

If you are interested in more information, please visit Bridgestone’s Winter Driving Safety site at http://winterdrivingsafety.com/.

 
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