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USDA describes $328M oil spill restoration plan for Gulf

CARRIERE, Miss. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it’s focusing conservation programs along the Gulf of Mexico in a $328 million plan to help recovery from the 2010 oil spill.

Undersecretary Robert Bonnie says the agency will use that focus through 2018 as it helps coastal producers plan improvements to improve water quality and improve coastal ecosystems under several Farm Bill programs.

The oil spill tie-in is a new twist to existing programs and will bring in a broader audience, Louisiana State University AgCenter Associate Vice President Rogers Leonard said in an email. Gulf Coast farmers will be interested in the amount of money available, he said.

Bonnie described the plan Monday at a Mississippi timber plot where the owner has worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to help improve downstream water quality.

“We’re working side-by-side with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to improve their operations while taking care of natural resources in the region,” Bonnie said. “With most of the land in the region privately owned, working lands on the Gulf Coast are pivotal to the region’s recovery.”

The money covers five programs: $129 million under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, $102.9 million through the Conservation Stewardship Program, $57.1 million from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, $29.6 million as Targeted Funding in Priority Watersheds and Landscapes, and $9.3 million under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

It includes $11.3 million to restore longleaf pine forests, $3.8 million to improve water quality and enhance habitat in Florida’s Everglades, $3.2 million to reduce runoff in nine watersheds around the Gulf, and $460,000 to plant wildflowers and native grasses that would attract bees, monarch butterflies and other pollinators in Alabama, Florida and Texas.

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