Over the past year, California has dealt with many devastating wildfires and natural disasters. California’s Natural Resource Conservation Services team did not let that slow them down in getting conservation to the land. California invested just over $100 million in a broad diversity of conservation contracts with farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners through the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program in the 2018 federal fiscal year which ended Sept. 30. This places California second in the Nation behind Texas for investments through EQIP.
“EQIP is a partnership between private landowners and our Agency — and when landowner contributions are included, the total conservation investment for the State is nearly doubled,” says Carlos Suarez, California State Conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.”Two thousand eighteen has certainly been a banner year for conservation in California, but it is not merely a matter of money. We are seeing an increasing need to help landowners plan for changing resource conditions and build resiliency into their operations through sound conservation plans and strategic investments.”
While historically requests for forestry assistance have been modest at NRCS, Suarez says this is changing. “As wildfires increase in severity and frequency we are increasingly being called to the table to assist in this issue that no one group or Agency can address alone,” he says. In 2018 NRCS invested $14.5 million in improving forest health on private lands in California.
Suarez says that water quality and water conservation continue to account for significant EQIP expenditures as farmers face the threat of recurring drought and the need to grapple with the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Helping farmers improve California’s compromised air quality — by swapping out old polluting tractors with technology up to 90 percent cleaner, and using other conservation practices — accounted for $23.5 million of EQIP expenditures.
Diverse wildlife projects accounted for another $3 million. In particular, efforts to protect Greater Sage-Grouse, Tricolored Blackbirds and post-harvest field flooding for migratory water birds continued to give the Agency an opportunity to work with key non-profit and government partners through collaborative conservation.
Suarez noted that a record $1.5 million was invested in seasonal high tunnels—with especially high interest by small scale and historically underserved farmers. The tunnels help shield crops from weather extremes and make more food locally available with a lower carbon footprint.