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Tom Vilsack and Collin Peterson: Renewing the commitment to valley conservation

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WASHINGTON — As a nation, we draw strength from our forests, grasslands, farmers, ranches, rivers and wild lands. Right here in the Red River Valley of the North, our 25-million acre watershed spreads across a mosaic of farmlands, grasslands, forests and wetlands.

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The valley is one of the most productive breadbaskets of the world, critical habitat for wildlife and migratory birds and home to millions of people living in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

But flooding, ponding, drought and extreme weather fluctuations are putting mounting pressure on the lands and natural resources here in the valley. Every day, it becomes increasingly important that we work together to preserve and protect these resources so they are available to future generations.

Recognizing the importance of this region to the future food and natural resource security of our nation, we recently visited the valley to announce a new $50 million investment in conservation in the Red River Basin.

The funding, which comes from the 2014 Farm Bill, will work through existing U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program, to help maintain and enhance the basin’s landscapes by retaining floodwaters, improving water quality, restoring wetlands and enhancing wildlife habitat. The purpose is to protect and reduce the impacts to cropland and farming headquarters lying within the basin.

The valley also is part of the Prairie Grasslands Critical Conservation Area under USDA’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, also established under the 2014 Farm Bill. The program hopes to invest a total of $2.4 billion over the next five years in local partner-designed and -driven conservation projects across the country.

Collectively, initiatives such as these will help boost conservation in the Red River Valley of the North and boost the region’s economy in a number of areas, including agriculture as well as hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreation.

The outdoor recreation economy alone supports an estimated 6.1 million direct jobs, $80 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue and $646 billion in spending each year across the country.

Working together with partners across the valley, we can forge a lasting era of conservation partnership that will keep the land resilient and water clean, promote tremendous economic growth in our communities and keep the region productive for generations to come.

To learn more about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, Herald readers should visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or their local USDA service center.

Vilsack is U.S. secretary of agriculture. Peterson, a DFLer, represents Minnesota in the U.S. House.

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