Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON – The Agriculture Department and local government partners will spend nearly $800 million to fund 115 conservation projects, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Wednesday.

The 115 conservation projects aim to improve water quality and soil health and protect wildlife habitats.

The federal government will provide $372.5 million and at least $400 million is expected from state and local partners.

“Conservation is a good example of how government works,” Vilsack said. “Here we are today announcing extraordinary historic efforts in conservation that are an example of government at every level working collaboratively and effectively.”

Vilsack said the programs set themselves apart from previous federal conservation efforts. Instead of applying sweeping conservation policy to the nation as a whole, the USDA coordinated with local governments and organizations to identify their individual needs. The programs also aim to coordinate with private sector organizations such as farmer groups and private forest landowners.

Roughly 70 percent of the projects impact water quantity and quality, which includes soil management while about 24 percent impact wildlife conservation. The USDA has on average 11 local partners per project.

“What we are really excited about seeing is how this locally led approach to conservation design and solutions will help innovate and bring new people to the table,” said Jason Weller, chief of the National Resource Conservation Service.

The funding was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, which allocated provisions to the USDA to award to local and national conservation programs.

One of the programs will help restore wildlife habitat along the Verde River in Arizona and promote sustainable use of water in the region.

“This is indeed a new era in conservation,” Vilsack said. “I think it marks an opportunity in this country to significantly increase investment in conservation.”