Montana NRCS Announces Conservation Initiatives for 2019

NRCS is offering additional funding through EQIP to target specific resource concerns in Montana in 2019: on-farm energy, honey bee pollinators, high tunnel systems, Sage Grouse Initiative invasive conifer removal and cropland seeding, Capital 360 Forestry Project, and the National Water Quality Initiative.

While NRCS accepts EQIP applications on a continuous basis, NRCS has set a deadline of Oct. 19, 2018, to apply for 2019 initiatives funding. Below is an overview of each initiative:

National On-Farm Energy Initiative:  This initiative has two components. In the first component, agricultural producers work with an NRCS-approved Technical Service Provider to develop Agricultural Energy Management Plans or farm energy audits that assess energy consumption on an operation. In the second component, NRCS may also provide assistance to implement various recommended measures identified in the energy audit through the use of conservation practice standards offered through this initiative.

Honey Bee Pollinators:  NRCS will work with agricultural producers to combat future declines by helping them to implement conservation practices that provide forage for honey bees while enhancing habitat for other pollinators and wildlife.

High Tunnel Systems:  NRCS helps producers implement high tunnels that extend growing seasons for high value crops in an environmentally safe manner. High tunnel benefits include better plant and soil quality and fewer nutrients and pesticides in the environment.

Sage Grouse Initiative Invasive Conifer Removal:  Conifer encroachment into sagebrush rangelands affects the productivity of grazing lands and can be detrimental for sage-grouse and other species that depend on sagebush-steppe habitat. The most cost-effective approach for conifer treatment is to target early encroachment stands, where small trees can be completely removed and the existing sagebrush community sustained. By targeting early stages of encroachment in intact sagebrush landscapes, habitat for wildlife can be improved.

Sage Grouse Initiative Cropland Seeding:  Loss and fragmentation of sage-grouse habitat is the primary threat to sage-grouse. Through this initiative, landowners can work with NRCS to seed cropland in sage-grouse habitat back to perennial species to improve the connectivity for not only sage-grouse, but the many other species that depend on large, intact landscapes.

Capital 360 Forestry Project:  The goal of the Capital 360 partnership project is to improve forest health by integrating resource management across all administrative boundaries. Through this localized initiative, fuels reduction treatment projects will be strategically placed across Broadwater, Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Powell counties.

National Water Quality Initiative: This initiative helps producers implement conservation systems to reduce nitrogen, phosphorous, sediment and pathogen contributions from agricultural land in the Camp and Godfrey Creeks (Lower Gallatin) Watershed.

EQIP offers financial and technical assistance to eligible participants to install or implement structural and management practices on eligible agricultural land. Conservation practices must be implemented to NRCS standards and specifications. In Montana, socially disadvantaged, limited resource, and beginning farmers and ranchers will receive a higher payment rate for eligible conservation practices applied.

For more information about EQIP, or other programs offered by NRCS, please contact your local USDA Service Center or visitwww.mt.nrcs.usda.gov.

NRCS Sets Program Funding Application Cutoff for October 19

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has set a Oct. 19, 2018, application cutoff for agricultural operators to be considered for 2019 conservation program funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

NRCS provides funding and technical assistance to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that provide environmental benefits to help sustain agricultural operations. Conservation program participation is voluntary and helps private landowners and operators defray the costs of installing conservation practices.

NRCS accepts conservation program applications year-round; however, applications for 2019 funding consideration must be submitted by Oct. 19, 2018. Applications made after the Oct. 19 cutoff will be considered in the next funding cycle. Additional information is available on the Montana NRCS website at www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov under the Programs tab or you can contact your local NRCS service center.

Source: NRCS Press Release

Watson to Lead Natural Resources Conservation Service in Montana

Tom Watson recently assumed the position of state conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Montana.  In that job, Watson will be responsible for NRCS operations within the state, including the administration of conservation technical assistance to private landowners, conservation financial assistance programs, conservation easement programs, the Natural Resources Inventory, water supply forecasting, soil survey mapping, and the Plant Materials Center in Bridger.

Most recently, Watson has worked as an assistant state conservationist in Oregon, supervising the administrative and operational functions for the state.  His NRCS career began at a local field office in Wyoming after graduating from the University of Wyoming with a range management degree. Watson grew up on a farm in western Nebraska and has spent his whole life connected to agriculture.

“I pride myself with being from the West and with that, an understanding of issues that often impact private land and producers,” Watson said. “I look forward to working with producers and the many conservation groups who have a stake in Montana’s future.”

Watson may be reached at the NRCS state office in Bozeman at 406-587-6811.

 

USDA-NRCS Montana Offers Funding for Conservation Gardens, High Tunnels

Bozeman, Mont., July 11, 2018–The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is accepting applications for grants to establish community gardens, pollinator gardens and seasonal high tunnels through the Montana NRCS Conservation Garden Project.

Proposals will be accepted from eligible entities for projects located in Montana, including city or township governments, county governments, special districts, state governments, nonprofit organizations, independent school districts, institutions of higher education, and Federally recognized Native American tribal governments.

The NRCS has funding available for the Montana NRCS Conservation Garden Project as follows:

  • Grants up to $4,000 will be available for a community garden. Funds are to be used for garden supplies which can include tools, seed, fertilizer, soil and soil additives, irrigation materials and garden materials. Technical assistance by NRCS staff will be available to help determine site, slope, placement, etc.
  • Grants up to $3,000 will be available for pollinator gardens. NRCS will provide technical assistance based on pollinator specifications.
  • Grants up to $6,500 will be available for construction of a seasonal high tunnel. NRCS specifications for the construction of a Seasonal High Tunnel will be followed.
  • Grant applicants may request funding for a combination of the choices above:  community garden, pollinator garden and seasonal high tunnel.

Applications for the Montana NRCS Conservation Garden Project are due by Aug. 10, 2018. The Notice of Funding Opportunity is available at www.grants.gov. The Opportunity number is USDA-NRCS-MT-18-01, and the title is Montana Conservation Garden Project. Applicants must have a DUNS number and an active registration in SAM. Questions can be directed to Lori Valadez, (406) 587-6969.

Secretary Perdue Applauds Red Tape Reduction for Farmers

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded the removal of a burdensome regulation that has long plagued family farms. The rule requiring producers to obtain Data Universal Number System (DUNS) and System for Award Management (SAM) numbers to participate in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) programs has been eliminated. Congress included this repeal in the FY 2018 Omnibus spending package, USDA’s official regulatory change will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow.

“I’m pleased Congress helped us to achieve one of our regulatory goals of cutting red tape for producers utilizing conservation programs by exempting them from SAM and DUNS requirements,” Secretary Perdue said. “These numbers were designed for billion-dollar government contractors, not everyday farmers trying to support their families. These changes help streamline the customer experience for farmers, which is a top priority at USDA.”

Prior to this rule change in the 2018 Omnibus spending bill, DUNS and SAM numbers were required for any federal contract application. This became an onerous regulation for small farms when it was intended for large government contractors. DUNS and SAM registration is still required for the following:

  • Partnership agreements entered through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).
  • All agreements with eligible entities under the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP)
  • Agreements under the Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) component of ACEP.
  • Partnership agreements under the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) component of ACEP-Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE).
  • Watershed operations agreements with project sponsors.
  • Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP) agreements with project sponsors, including Recovery and Floodplain Easements.
  • All cooperative, contribution, interagency, or partnership agreements of Federal contracts used by NRCS to procure goods or services.

NRCS advises participants in its programs to ignore any emails, phone calls or other communications from third-party vendors offering assistance for registering in SAMS or applying for a DUNS number.

To learn more about NRCS financial and technical assistance, go to www.nrcs.usda.gov.

 

Source: USDA

Record to well-above normal snowpack primed to melt across the state of Montana.

FROM NRCS:  After a winter and spring that dropped seemingly non-stop snowfall across most of Montana, spring runoff is finally here. April started just like many of the other months so far this snow season, with abundant precipitation falling and continuing to build the mountain snowpack, according to snow survey data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Some areas in southwest Montana set new records for April precipitation (Gallatin and Madison valleys), and almost all areas except the Rocky Mountain Front and Hi-Line received near to above normal precipitation. “The crazy fact about this April was that average to well-above average precipitation fell during the first 18 days of the month; the latter half of the month was dominated by high pressure with abundant sunshine and well-above-average temperatures,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana.

Early April precipitation only continued to add to a snowpack that was well-above normal across the state, and the snowpack was record-setting in the Upper Clark Fork, Blackfoot and Clark’s Fork (Yellowstone) River basins. Peak snow water equivalent in these basins exceeded prior record years of 1975, 1997 and 2011, and occurred during the third week of the month. Many SNOTEL sites and snowcourses in these basins remain record for May 1 even though melt has already started at low to mid-elevations.

“Snowpack percentages are incredibly high for this date across the state, and in almost all river basins,” Zukiewicz said. “At some point in the spring, I stopped getting excited by the continued snowfall, and started worrying about it.”

The NRCS forecasts long-duration streamflows for water users across the state, and the May 1 – July 31 forecasts reflect the well-above normal snowpack across the state and are above to well-above average in almost all river basins. Even though the agency forecasts long-term volumes, it works closely with cooperators in the National Weather Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to provide information to them on current snowpack conditions and forecasted volumes in order to manage reservoirs and issue information to the public regarding the coming runoff.

Water managers in the state have been actively managing reservoirs in anticipation of the well-above-average runoff in some basins, and reservoirs in some systems had been dropped to near historic levels before runoff began in mid-to-late April. Since late January the Bureau of Reclamation has dropped Hungry Horse Reservoir in the Flathead River basin nearly 70 feet, and in the Sun River basin, Gibson Reservoir was dropped to close to a record low on April 1.

“Active management in the river systems with reservoirs this year has been great to see with the huge snowpack we have, but water users on non-controlled streams and rivers will be at the mercy of the weather this year with regards to snowmelt runoff,” Zukiewicz said.

Active snowmelt runoff began mid-month across the state, with low-elevation melt causing substantial increases in river and stream flows. “In many cases, the large increases in flows were from elevations below what we measure with our current monitoring network,” he said. “Valley and plains snow this year was abundant due to the below normal temperatures. When it and the low elevation mountain snowpack started to melt, it resulted in quick increases in flows in many rivers and streams.” Snowpack remains well-above normal for this date at almost all water yielding elevations, meaning that the bulk of the snow water remains to enter the rivers and streams.

The official National Weather Service flood potential forecasts across the state indicate there is significant potential for flooding along some rivers and streams this spring and summer, something that is already occurring. “Ultimately, we’ll have to wait and see how fast the snowpack comes out this year, but the potential is there for big flows to occur with the amount of snow still left in the mountains,” Zukiewicz said. “A long period of sunny days with above average temperatures or a rain-on-snow event would be a game changer. A close eye should be kept on the weather forecasts this spring and summer, especially if you live in a low-lying area near a river or stream.”

Current snowpack conditions and long-term streamflow forecasts can be found in this month’s NRCS Montana Water Supply Outlook Report, which can be found at the website below after the 5th business day of the month:

http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

 

NRCS Sets Program Funding Application Cutoff for June 1

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has set a June 1, 2018, application cutoff for agricultural operators to be considered for 2019 conservation program funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

NRCS provides funding and technical assistance to help farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that provide environmental benefits to help sustain agricultural operations. Conservation program participation is voluntary and helps landowners and operators defray the costs of installing conservation practices.

NRCS accepts conservation program applications year-round; however, applications for 2019 funding consideration must be submitted by June 1, 2018. Applications made after the June 1 cutoff will be considered in the next funding cycle. Additional information is available on the Montana NRCS website at www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov under the Programs tab or you can contact your local NRCS service center.

NRCS Accepting Applications for Upper Clark Fork Drought Resiliency Project

From NRCS: Agricultural producers in Montana’s Upper Clark Fork River Watershed area have until May 18, 2018, to apply for financial assistance for conservation practices funded through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

In February 2016, a proposal submitted by the Watershed Restoration Coalition was accepted by NRCS to be funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. The program will provide funding for partnership projects between public (Federal and State) and private entities and nongovernmental organizations.

The Upper Clark Fork project makes available a special five-year funding pool that NRCS will use to fund projects in the Upper Clark Fork watershed area. This is the second year funding is being made available and NRCS anticipates funding projects each year for the duration of the project agreement.

The RCPP project sign-up period will focus on projects that will address water conservation, irrigation water management, fish passage and fisheries habitat resource issues.

To apply for financial assistance, visit the NRCS field office located at 1002 Hollenback Road in Deer Lodge. For additional information, contact Glen Green, NRCS District Conservationist, at (406) 415-4040 or 415-4046.

Snowpack Still on the Rise, Well Above Average, and Setting Records in Some Parts of Montana

From NRCS:

Unlike February, snowfall wasn’t record-breaking in Montana during March, but it was sufficient to keep the snowpack near to well above normal on April 1, according to snow survey data collected by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “One thing is for sure; it’s been a snowy winter across the state of Montana,” said Lucas Zukiewicz, NRCS water supply specialist for Montana, “and there’s still more to come.”

Last month, records were set for both monthly totals for February snowfall, and for total snowpack accumulation on March 1. Many snowpack measuring locations that feed Montana’s rivers and streams remain record high for April 1. Ten SNOwpack TELemetry (SNOTEL) and snowcourse locations remain the highest on record for this date, and 12 measurement locations are the second highest on record. These sites can be found in the mountains that feed the Upper Yellowstone River, Upper Clark Fork and Missouri Mainstem River basins, where snowfall has been abundant throughout the winter months. “Although not record-setting like these regions, the snowpack in other river basins across the state is well above normal for this time of year,” Zukiewicz said.

2018 is looking to go down as one of the biggest snow years on record for some parts of the state, prompting questions on how it compares to other memorable snowpack years. “1972, 1997, 2011 and 2014 were all big winters across the state, and many are wondering how this year compares,” Zukiewicz said. “So far, the only snowpack that has topped all other water years for peak snow water contained in the snowpack is the area near Cooke City which feeds the Clark’s Fork River of the Yellowstone River.”

For the most part, the snowpack in the rest of the state hasn’t reached the levels of 1997, 2011 and 2014. “During those years, snowpack peaked at the beginning of May to early June. For now, it looks like there is still a lot of winter left to come and this year could break more records if it keeps going.” Zukiewicz said.

Long-range predictions by the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center continue to forecast above average precipitation and below average temperatures through the end of April.

Due to the abundant snowfall, many measurement locations have already reached, or exceeded, the normal amount of snow water that is typically contained in the snowpack before runoff occurs, all but assuring at least normal surface water supply this spring and summer, Zukiewicz said. Long-duration volumetric streamflow forecasts issued for the April 1 – July 31 period are well above average for most stream gages in the state, and could approach record levels this spring and summer at the stream gage at Belfry, Mont., located along Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone.

“Having a big snowpack is a double-edged sword,” Zukiewicz said. “You know there will be plenty of snowpack to feed the rivers, which is typically great news, but the uncertainty of how and when it will come out can keep you up at night.”

The coming month will be critical in determining how much water is available in the snowpack for runoff this spring, and the day-to-day and week-by-week weather patterns during May and June will determine the timing and volumes of water in Montana. Water users are encouraged to read the May 1, 2018, NRCS Water Supply Outlook Report, which will summarize the conditions that occurred over the month of April, and help water users prepare for runoff this spring and summer.

Individual point forecasts for streams and rivers can be found in the monthly NRCS Water Supply Outlook Report and should be consulted as conditions vary from basin to basin, and even within the basins themselves.

Monthly Water Supply Outlook Reports can be found at the website below after the 5th business day of the month:

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/mt/snow/waterproducts/basin/

April 1, 2018, Snow Water Equivalent

River Basin % of Normal % Last Year
Columbia 137 134
Kootenai, Montana 128 122
Flathead, Montana 136 130
Upper Clark Fork 156 170
Bitterroot 134 128
Lower Clark Fork 124 117
Missouri 133 145
Jefferson 135 134
Madison 124 118
Gallatin 130 148
Headwaters Mainstem 169 190
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 130 186
Sun-Teton-Marias 142 122
St. Mary-Milk 140 149
Yellowstone River Basin 135 102
Upper Yellowstone 152 128
Lower Yellowstone 121 85
West of the Divide 137 134
East of the Divide 133 119
Montana State-Wide 137 137

April 1, 2018, Precipitation

River Basin Monthly % of Average Water Year % of Average Water Year % of Last Year
Columbia 93 123 95
Kootenai, Montana 93 113 81
Flathead, Montana 101 129 96
Upper Clark Fork 103 130 114
Bitterroot 99 119 100
Lower Clark Fork 69 115 85
Missouri 111 119 95
Jefferson 117 111 93
Madison 121 113 82
Gallatin 113 124 98
Headwaters Mainstem 111 137 120
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 90 117 111
Sun-Teton-Marias 90 136 104
St. Mary-Milk 107 130 88
Yellowstone River Basin 98 122 83
Upper Yellowstone 99 138 95
Lower Yellowstone 98 108 72
West of the Divide 93 123 95
East of the Divide 103 121 89
Montana State-Wide 102 124 95

April-July 50% Exceedance Forecasts

River Basin Highest Point Forecast* Lowest Point Forecast** Basin Average Forecast***
Columbia 231% 107% 134%
Kootenai, Montana 124% 110% 118%
Flathead, Montana 158% 112% 131%
Upper Clark Fork 231% 148% 170%
Bitterroot 128% 113% 121%
Lower Clark Fork 144% 107% 130%
Missouri 174% 95% 125%
Jefferson 161% 95% 126%
Madison 114% 111% 113%
Gallatin 123% 115% 120%
Headwaters Mainstem 135% 128% 132%
Smith-Judith-Musselshell 174% 117% 141%
Sun-Teton-Marias 141% 99% 123%
St. Mary 123% 119% 121%
Yellowstone River Basin 194% 83% 133%
Upper Yellowstone 194% 97% 147%
Lower Yellowstone 159% 83% 119%

Note: Streamflow forecasts are issued for multiple points on rivers and streams within a major river basin and are given as a range of exceedance probabilities. Consult the individual river basin of interest to see the range of values for streams of interest.

*Highest point forecast is the highest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

**Lowest point forecast is the lowest 50% forecast of all forecast points within the basin.

***Basin average forecast is an average of all 50% forecasts within the basin.

USDA Offers Renewal Options for Expiring Conservation Stewardship Contracts

Agricultural producers wanting to enhance current conservation efforts are encouraged to renew their Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract.

Through CSP, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps private landowners build their business while implementing conservation practices that help ensure the sustainability of their entire operation.

Participants with existing CSP contracts expiring on Dec. 31, 2018, can access the benefits of the recent program changes through an option to renew their contracts for an additional five years if they agree to adopt additional activities to achieve higher levels of conservation on their lands.

NRCS will mail contract renewal notification letters to all participants whose contracts expire in 2018, which will contain instructions on how to apply for renewal.

Applications to renew expiring contracts are due by April 13.

Through CSP, agricultural producers and forest landowners earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, ecologically-based pest management, buffer strips, and pollinator and beneficial insect habitat – all while maintaining active agriculture production on their land. CSP also encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies and new management techniques such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage and planting for high carbon sequestration rate, and new soil amendments to improve water quality.

Some of the benefits of CSP include:

  • Improved cattle gains per acre;
  • Increased crop yields;
  • Decreased inputs;
  • Wildlife population improvements; and
  • Better resilience to weather extremes.

NRCS recently made several updates to the program to help producers better evaluate their conservation options and the benefits to their operations and natural resources. New methods and software for evaluating applications help producers see up front why they are or are not meeting stewardship thresholds, and allow them to pick practices and enhancements that work for their conservation objectives. These tools also enable producers to see potential payment scenarios for conservation early in the process.

Producers interested in CSP are recommended to contact their local USDA service center or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

Source: Montana NRCS