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Farm bill creates new critical conservation areas

white_tailed_deer_buck2AROUND MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi has two new conservation partnerships aimed at ensuring the long-term viability of the Mississippi River and the long leaf pine forests to the state.

Large portions of Mississippi are included in two of the eight Critical Conservation Areas (CCA) authorized under the 2014 farm bill as part of a significant reform of U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation areas. Mississippi is part of a 13-state Mississippi River Basin CCA and the Longleaf Pine Range CCA that extends from the Atlantic Coast to East Texas.

“The new Regional Conservation Partnership Program will create opportunities for Mississippi agriculture producers, conservationists and other partners to work on a cooperative basis to safeguard the natural resources that are important to our state’s environment and an economy that benefits from strong agriculture and timber sectors, as well as hunting, fishing and recreation,” said U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) was created through the consolidation of 23 conservation programs into 13 reformed programs, saving more than $6.0 billion over 10 years. The RCPP will make resources available through three competitive funding pools of which 35 percent of total program funding will be reserved for the eight CCAs to support collaborative conservation projects with federal, state and private partners. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will allot $400 million in the first year of this five-year program.

The overall goal of the Mississippi River Basin CCA is to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment loads entering the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. The long-range goal of the Longleaf Pine CCA is improve longleaf pine ecosystems, enhance water quality and increase the longleaf pine acreage goal from 3.4 to eight million acres by 2025.

At a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing in March, Cochran promoted the inclusion of the Lower Mississippi River Valley in one of the eight CCAs.

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