Apply for funds to improve windbreaks, riparian forests
March 4 is this year's deadline for Kansas landowners to apply for cost-share funds available through a special program called the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative. The funds are earmarked to help two declining natural resources: the region's aging and/or damaged windbreaks and riparian (streamside) forests.
"More than $200,000 is available for the Kansas landowners who qualify. That amount could have far-reaching impacts," said Bob Atchison, rural forestry coordinator for the Kansas Forest Service.
The provision can cover the majority of costs for improving or renovating windbreaks, forests and woodlands and for establishing riparian plantings. Such projects can take more than one funding year to complete, Atchison explained. In turn, the finished projects are highly likely to help protect and conserve additional resources, such as soil, water and energy.
"Recent surveys and satellite research revealed that the needs in Kansas are becoming critical," he added. "For example, 44 percent of Kansas windbreaks are in fair to poor condition now. Many were planted as a result of what we learned during the Dust Bowl. But they're no longer providing the conservation benefits they once had.
"Many of the trees that lined our major rivers and streams are gone or in decline now, too, due to changes in river channels and stream flows. As often as not, those changes were human-caused."
Atchison cited the following examples of the costs that forestry CCPI funds can help cover:
--Using heavy equipment (e.g., bulldozer) to remove unhealthy, dead or undesirable trees;
--Planting quality trees and shrubs;
--Using weed barrier fabric or herbicide applications to control competing weeds and grasses;
--Installing fencing or tree shelters to protect young seedlings from animal damage;
--Cutting back trees that will produce new sprouts from stumps or roots (coppicing); and
--Installing a per-seedling micro-irrigation drip system.
For landowners, participation in the CCPI is both voluntary and competitive, Atchison said. The program can address all kinds of natural resource needs associated with agricultural lands. Its priorities can vary by location.
CCPI funds are administered through USDA's Environmental Quality Incentive Program. As a result, landowners apply for CCPI-EQIP funds at the Natural Resource Conservation Service office in their local USDA Service Center.
NRCS offices can take applications at any time. Applications that miss a particular year's deadline simply go into the next fiscal year's selection pool.
To help interested Kansans get started, EQIP self-assessment worksheets are available at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/eqip/2011/self_assessment.html.
"You actually can earn extra ranking points if you complete the appropriate worksheet and get it to your NRCS office before the application-cutoff date. For the 2011 forestry initiative, that's March 4," Atchison said.
More information about the windbreak and riparian forest initiative itself is available at www.kansasforests.org/rural/lib/eqip.pdf.
The initiative is available only in the northern High Plains states of Kansas, Nebraska and both Dakotas. Thus far, Atchison said, Congress plans to appropriate more than $4 million dollars toward this four-state effort over the next five years.