STAFF & WIRE REPORTS
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced $197 million in federal funding for 41 locally-led conservation projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Included in those projects is Alachua Conservation Trust’s (ACT) Forest to Gulf RCPP, which has been awarded $7.85 million to expand conservation programs in North Central Florida.
ACT’s project was the only Florida-based RCPP awarded in 2022.
The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is designed to expand Farm Bill conservation by leveraging the resources of public-private partnerships. 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.
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.
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.
“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 region is a rural landscape of farms and timberlands interspersed with large natural landscapes, including a large section of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. As development increases in the region, natural and rural landscapes are increasingly important for wildlife habitat and estuary protection. The Forest to Gulf RCPP award 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, the program will offer expanded opportunities for education, research, and outreach to historically underserved landowners.
“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.”
The Forest to Gulf RCPP will extend through 2026. 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 (FDEP), Florida Forest Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), 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.
“This is just the sort of innovative collaboration we need to meet the challenges we face in conservation today,” said Alachua County Commissioner Anna Prizzia. “ACT is at the forefront of exploring ways we can work with private landholders to find common ground and provide support for their stewardship of our environment. I look forward to their leadership in providing opportunities to work with working lands to protect our natural resources and critical habitat.”
About Alachua Conservation Trust
ACT is an accredited, non-profit land trust working to protect the natural, historic, scenic and recreational resources in and around North Central Florida.
Since 1988, ACT has been instrumental in facilitating the conservation of nearly 56,000 acres of Florida land, including the direct purchase and protection of over 24,500 acres.
ACT primarily works in 16 counties, owns and manages over 6,000 acres, and has collaborated with private landowners to protect an additional 6,212 acres through conservation easements.
About NRCS RCPP
First authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP has leveraged partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA, resulting in nearly $3 billion collectively invested in natural resource conservation on private lands.
Since inception, RCPP has made 589 awards involving over 3,000 partner organizations.
Currently there are 401 active projects, with at least one active project in every state and area. Successful RCPP projects provide innovative conservation solutions, leverage partner contributions and offer impactful and measurable outcomes.●
To learn more, mail ACT at info@AlachuaConservation Trust.org or call 352-373-1078.