American culture was forged on the frontier. Vestiges of that frontier remain, from iconic public lands like Yellowstone National Park to private working farms, forests and ranchlands. Conserving and restoring those large landscapes and working lands protects ecosystems, the communities that depend on them, our shared heritage, and a way of life. Through AGO, this Administration is partnering with communities across the country to catalyze and bolster local conservation efforts and demonstrate the power of federal agencies to more effectively align, target, and leverage our resources to accomplish shared goals and objectives.
AGO’s Large Landscapes Initiative focuses on catalyzing and bolstering local, community-driven efforts that conserve and connect the nation’s landscapes and watersheds. More specifically, we work to:
- Improve collaboration across federal agencies and with state and local partners, especially given the inherent cross-jurisdictional nature of restoring large landscapes
- Promote coordination and expand communication to achieve more effective alignment and leveraging of resources
- Advance ongoing, locally-led initiatives that emanate from outside Washington, D.C.
- Provide replicable models for success in other places through five demonstration sites, which include the longleaf pine forests of the Southeast, the deserts of the Southwest, the grasslands of the northern Great Plains, the Crown of the Continent in the northern Rockies, and the northern forests and waters of New England
Protecting the Crown of the Continent
The Crown of the Continent is one of several AGO large landscapes that, through focused investment and collaboration, is demonstrating the advantages and opportunities of coordinated agency and partner action. In 2012 only, habitat restoration and acquisition investments from DOI and USDA resulted in the restoration of 4,200 acres of wetland and uplands, 32 miles of river, and the removal of 7 fish barriers, provided approximately $1.1 million in counties as well as on the Flathead Indian Reservation to private landowners who are implementing conservation practices, and invested nearly $5 million in Land and Water Conservation Fund easements and acquisitions.
Working Lands for Wildlife
Rural landowners, farmers, ranchers and forest owners provide not only food and fiber for the world, but also a host of environmental benefits, including habitat for wildlife. Nearly two-thirds of all species federally listed as threatened or endangered exist on private lands. Conservation efforts on these lands generate outdoor recreation and economic activity that result in sustained growth for local communities and landowners. Working Lands for Wildlife is a new partnership between NRCS and the USFWS to dedicate $33 million in financial assistance from the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, combined with multiple agencies' technical expertise, to combat the decline of seven specific wildlife species and prevent their inclusion on the endangered species list. Landowners enrolled also gain certain regulatory assurances if species decline in numbers. In just six months, 670 landowners were enrolled in the program. Currently over 320,000 acres of wildlife habitat are being restored for the seven imperiled species. Working Lands for Wildlife is an innovative partnership that empowers America's farmers and ranchers to continue working their lands while furthering conservation of species through voluntary measures. It serves as a model for a more efficient, more effective, and more cooperative way to improve the health and diversity of working landscapes while protecting at risk species.
The grasslands of the Great Plains are enormously important for wildlife, water resources, agriculture and our economy. The grasslands of the Prairie Pothole Region, for example, have long been recognized as the "duck factory" of North America, producing 50% of the continent's waterfowl on an average year and up to 70% when water and grass are abundant. However, with high crop prices and new technologies, grasslands and isolated wetlands are being converted to other uses at an alarming rate. Nearly 250 million acres of tallgrass prairie and an estimated 80% of shortgrass prairie have been lost through conversion. Nearly 300,000 acres—2.2% of the remaining native prairie—were converted to cropland between 2002 and 2005 alone, and the rate of conversion is increasing each year. This threat is bigger than any one federal agency and demands a landscape-scale approach.
To restore and protect Great Plains grasslands and wetlands for waterfowl and the ranching communities that depend on them, AGO is helping to coordinate several conservation actions, including DOI's targeting investment of some $30M of the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund and USDA's One Million Acre initiative targeting CRP enrollments. Individually, the two initiatives will bring tens of millions of new conservation dollars to the conservation of imperiled grasslands. Together, the two initiatives will target conservation investments cohesively with FWS, NRCS, and FSA working locally to target funding. For both, partnerships with landowners, conservation groups, state agencies and other stakeholders will be critical to maximize the return on investment and stem the tide of grassland conversion.
MOU ON INTERAGENCY COLLABORATION
In early 2013, nine bureaus and agencies signed an Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to strengthen interagency collaboration around the America's Great Outdoors Landscape and Watershed Conservation Demonstration Areas. The MOU furthers the many complementary ongoing efforts of agencies and local partners to work collaboratively to conserve "landscape-scale" systems. The federal agencies established several interagency landscape and watershed conservation teams to encourage interagency coordination, improved communication, and collaboration with local partners. There are currently five landscape teams and two watershed teams (the Crown of the Continent, the deserts of the Southwest, the grassland of the Northern Great Plains, the northern forests and waters of New England, the longleaf pine forests of the southeast, the White River watershed in Missouri and Arkansas and the Connecticut River watershed of New England).
NFWF is cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Refuge System to develop community-based conservation partnerships. These partnerships will help to conserve wildlife, plants and natural resources while fostering community interest and involvement on a national scale. Funding will be awarded through competitive grants for capacity building in the community, mentoring and training, developing outcomes to measure conservation success, and consolidating lessons learned into a 'Great Outdoors America' roadmap to assist new community-based coalitions.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering financial and technical assistance to farmers located in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. The Basin has been selected as a prioritized watershed based on the availability of a complex computer modeling project that has identified Critical Source Areas (CSAs) of phosphorus to Missisquoi Bay. NRCS will help producers implement conservation land management practices through a systems approach to control and trap nutrient and manure runoff. Qualified producers will receive assistance for installing conservation practices such as cover crops, filter strips and grassed waterways. Applications will be accepted until April 1st, 2013 if funds are available.
NRCS has conservation financial assistance available for landowners in the Saginaw Bay Watershed. Financial assistance is available to agricultural producers to implement conservation practices that reduce soil erosion and help reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients reaching surface water including the Great Lakes and Saginaw Bay. Examples of practices eligible for financial assistance include cover crops, buffer strips, agrichemical handling facilities, windbreaks and grassed waterways.