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In Arkansas Program to restore forests, wetlands

USDA has announced a $9.4 million conservation partnership with Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe to restore more than 6,000 acres of hardwood tree forests and wetlands in the Cache River/Bayou Deview watersheds, located in the northeast counties of Monroe, Prairie and Woodruff.

“Establishing native plantings through the Arkansas CREP will provide habitat for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “The Arkansas CREP's additional goals of reducing soil erosion, improving water quality and sequestering carbon emphasizes USDA's and Arkansas's commitment to our environment.”

The Arkansas Cache River/Bayou Deview Watershed CREP seeks to enroll 6,250 cropland or marginal pastureland acres to significantly restore bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands that wildlife use for breeding, foraging and survival.

The CREP will decrease soil erosion and improve water quality in the watersheds by reducing sediments and nutrients entering streams from agricultural sources.

Soon, local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices and Arkansas will announce the Arkansas CREP sign-up date. Sign-up will continue until enrollment goals are met, or through Dec. 31, 2007, whichever comes first.

Land enrolled in the program will remain under contract for a minimum of 14 years, but no more than 15 years, as specified in the contract.

USDA estimates the Arkansas CREP's total cost over a 15-year period will be $9.4 million, with USDA contributing $7.1 million and Arkansas funding $2.3 million.

USDA will pay participants an annual rental payment. CREP participants will also receive incentive payments as part of the annual rental payment, as applicable, as well as cost-share assistance for installing approved conservation practices. Additionally, Arkansas will use part of its $2.3 million contribution to provide a state tax credit to eligible participants and to pay for technical assistance and administrative staff to coordinate the program.

Arkansas will require a state permanent easement to be secured between the participant and the state on land under a federal contract. The state, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, will pay participants a one-time up-front incentive payment for the easement.

The permanent easement provision will continue to apply for perpetuity to enrolled acres after the end of the federal portion of the CREP contract.

The easement will ensure that conservation enhancements and forest cover will remain on the land to provide extended environmental and wildlife benefits. The easement allows forest management practices, such as thinning, to be conducted. Hunting and fishing are also approved practices under the easement.

CREP is a federal-state cooperative conservation program that addresses targeted agricultural-related environmental concerns. CREP is part of FSA's Conservation Reserve Program, America's largest private-lands conservation program, with more than 36 million acres enrolled.

Through CRP and CREP, farmers and ranchers plant primarily grass and trees. Many practices are installed adjacent to rivers and streams. The practices help to prevent soil, fertilizer and animal waste from reaching these waters. The practices also provide enhanced wildlife habitat and can be used to restore wetlands on cropland.

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