The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced it is awarding $197 million for 41 locally led conservation projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This includes a project in Florida, the Alachua Conservation Trust’s (ACT) Forest to Gulf RCPP. It has been awarded $7.85 million to expand conservation programs in the North Central part of the state, and is the only Florida-based RCPP awarded in 2022.
RCPP is a partner-driven program that leverages partner resources to advance innovative projects that address climate change, enhance water quality, and address other critical challenges on agricultural land. Administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) the program is designed to expand Farm Bill conservation by leveraging the resources of public-private partnerships.
ACT will lead the Forest to Gulf partnership, which includes state and federal agencies, local government, other nonprofit organizations, and private stakeholder groups. Notably, this award will compliment other local and state land protection programs, including Alachua County Forever, Florida Forever, and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program. In addition, it will expand funding for private lands management, with an emphasis on prescribed burning and forest management to improve wildlife habitat. This is the second USDA NRCS project for ACT, which was awarded $7.1 million in 2021 for its Surface to Springs RCPP project in the lower Suwannee River basin.
“By leveraging collective resources and collaborating on common goals, RCPP demonstrates the power of public-private partnerships in delivering results for agriculture and conservation,” said Juan Hernandez, NRCS State Conservationist for Florida. “We are excited to work with ACT and all of the contributing partners who have experience, expertise, and capacity to successfully carry out this project.”
ACT’s Forest to Gulf RCPP project area encompasses parts of Marion, Alachua, Levy, Putnam, Sumter Citrus, and Hernando counties, and is home to longleaf pine and critical wildlife habitat, including a large section of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. In addition, it contains large wetlands and floodplains associated with the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers, as well as one of the State’s largest estuaries along the Nature Coast.
“We are thrilled to receive this RCPP award,” said ACT executive director Tom Kay. “As one of Florida’s fastest growing areas, the Forest to Gulf region is in tremendous need of expanded conservation efforts, and we look forward to working with NRCS and our many partners to implement this program. It takes the combined efforts of public and private partners to implement large-scale conservation and this project provides the foundation for that effort.”
The Forest to Gulf RCPP will extend through 2026 and is made possible with partner contributions that will provide over $22 million for conservation easements, conservation lands acquisition, and private land management practices. In addition to NRCS, there are several contributing partners that will help make this project possible, including Alachua County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Forest Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Stetson University, University of Florida, Wildlands Conservation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Wildlife Federation, Putnam Land Conservancy, North Florida Prescribed Burn Association, Equine Land Conservation Resource, and the Cultural Arts Coalition. In addition, the program will offer expanded opportunities for education, research, and outreach to historically underserved landowners.
See the complete list of 2022 RCPP projects here.