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Funding for Grand Forks County conservation program available

Kathryn Yurkonis

Funding for a federal program to promote prairie and soil conservation efforts on working lands in Grand Forks County now is available through the local Natural Resources Conservation Service office, and interested landowners can apply for funds until Nov. 17.

The Regional Conservation Partnerships Program is being administered through the NRCS' Environmental Quality Incentives Program—EQIP, for short—and will bring $375,000 to Grand Forks County during the five-year life of the project, said Lorilie Atkinson, soil conservationist for the Grand Forks NRCS office..

Coupled with matching funds from project partners including UND, Audubon Dakota and the North Dakota Natural Resources Trust, about $700,000 will be available for qualifying producers.

The Grand Forks County Prairie Project was one of 88 projects across the country selected for RCPP funding. Some $225 million will be available to producers, with the remainder of the $375,000 in federal funding covering technical assistance and administrative costs, Atkinson said.

Funds will be allocated on a ranking system, and landowners with property in the boundaries of the Grand Forks Prairie Project, an area stretching about 10 miles east to west and 30 miles north and south, will have priority, she said, though the program is open to all producers in the county.

Generally, NRCS funds 60 percent to 75 percent of cost-share projects, with producers covering the remainder, Atkinson said.

Practices that potentially could qualify for RCPP funding include planting cover crops, practices to improve water quality and setting up livestock fences to promote grazing.

Student learning aspect

Producers who receive RCPP funding must agree to allow UND students on the land to monitor and inventory the conservation practices that are established and the benefits they provide.

Two UND students will be on the ground every summer, and one student will work with the program every fall throughout the five-year project, said Kathryn Yurkonis, associate professor in the UND Department of Biology.

That's useful, real-world experience, she said.

"We'll be having students out there on the landscape working with producers on a one-on-one-basis, which is kind of fun," Yurkonis said. "We're linking students directly with conservation on the ground and producers out there, so it's a fun interaction and collaboration.

"It really doesn't happen like that very often."

UND also will be showcasing its Oakville Prairie Field Station, a 960-acre site west of Grand Forks with the largest fragment of unplowed native prairie in the Red River Valley. That's part of the program's outreach component, Yurkonis said.

"We're really looking for involvement with the producers in this," Yurkonis said.

Producers qualifying for RCPP funding will be notified sometime in the winter, Atkinson said, with work on accepted projects beginning next spring.

For more information on RCPP, contact the Grand Forks County NRCS office at (701) 772-2321 or check out the website at www.nd.nrcs.usda.gov.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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