Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced $2 million in financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help farmers in designated parts of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana prevent phosphorus from entering Western Lake Erie Basin waterways.  Pheasants Forever supports the announcement, which is part of an effort to improve water quality and support jobs in the region that are generated through the hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation industry. Secretary Vilsack was joined by U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Sherrod Brown (OH), and Representatives John Dingell (MI) and Marcy Kaptur (OH) for the announcement.

“Today’s announcement is welcomed news for Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana wildlife,” says Ben Wickerham, Pheasants Forever Michigan Regional Representative, “In addition to the positive economic impact for the Lake Erie region and its wide-sweeping environmental benefits, this conservation effort will make positive strides for a variety of upland restoration initiatives that Pheasants Forever and our partners are participating in, including the Michigan Pheasant Restoration Initiative.”

“Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are a tremendous partner in helping protect the environment and this initiative gives them an additional opportunity to help address the challenges phosphorus poses to water quality in the basin,” Vilsack said. “This funding will help farmers take necessary steps to improve and protect the environmental health of the Lake Erie Basin, preserve habitat for the region’s fish and wildlife, and protect over 100,000 jobs that Lake Erie helps support.”

Senator Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry said: “Protecting our Great Lakes, waterways and natural resources is critical for Michigan’s economy and our way of life. Over one million hunters and anglers in our state support 46,000 Michigan jobs, and those sportsmen and those jobs depend on sound conservation. Michigan farmers are on the frontlines in the fight to protect our wildlife habitat and water quality. With common-sense, cost-effective conservation practices, our farmers will help address the serious phosphorous and nitrogen problems in the Western Lake Erie Basin—problems that seriously threaten the health of Lake Erie’s ecosystem.”

“A healthy Lake Erie is vital to Ohio’s prosperity—and achieving this goal requires a comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck strategy,” Senator Brown said. “These new resources will enable farmers to employ the best conservation practices possible and demonstrate how farmers can contribute to revitalizing Lake Erie and the recreation, tourism and boating industries the lake supports. I applaud Secretary Vilsack and the Natural Resource Conservation Service for recognizing the value of the Great Lakes, and that the benefits of agricultural conservation extend well beyond the farm.”

“I applaud the Department of Agriculture and Secretary Vilsack for taking action to protect the fish, wildlife, soil, and ecological diversity in the Lake Erie Basin,” U.S. Rep. Dingell said. “We appreciate USDA setting aside $2 million for Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help our farmers combat the genuine threat of phosphorous in the area.  We must not let our efforts to protect the Great Lakes and the surrounding environments diminish.  The bottom line is that it takes money to keep up the good work.  These new resources show a clear commitment from USDA to help our farmers and state and local governments.”

“Our region’s future is tied to the health of the Lake Erie ecosystem,” U.S. Rep. Kaptur said. “With all the stakeholders working together, we can make the western basin one of the most sustainable places on the face of the earth.  That’s why this collaborative initiative is so vitally important.”

This announcement recognizes the critical role agriculture plays in conserving our natural resources and helps support the millions of jobs that are generated through the hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation industry. Funds will address the excess amounts of phosphorus that cause blue-green algae to grow intensively in rivers and streams where it limits oxygen concentrations in water, makes water quality improvement more expensive and impacts tourism in surrounding communities.  Applications for funding are due at local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices by April 27.

In addition to a combination of core conservation practices, new supporting practices show promise as tools to address phosphorus runoff, such as biofilters and controlled drainage. To support this effort, USDA assembled a team of top scientists from USDA and Purdue University that developed recommended measures farmers can take to help limit phosphorus losses from agricultural operations:  reducing runoff of phosphorus by placing fertilizer and manure below the soil surface; not applying phosphorus when levels in the soil are already high; planting buffers and filter strips along ditches and streams; and establishing diverse varieties of cover crops that reduce the volume of runoff, improve soil health and provide other conservation benefits.

Today’s announcement builds on the larger Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that was established between 11 federal agencies in 2010 to address critical resource concerns, including subsurface nitrogen and phosphorous losses.  Over the past three years, NRCS in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency, has invested $75 million above and beyond its base program funding in the Great Lakes basin, most of which has been directed toward addressing nutrient and sediment concerns.  This funding is targeted both geographically—to priority watersheds that have an outsized impact on nutrient and sediment loading—and by core practices that are successful at reducing nutrient and sediment runoff.  This work is producing results; a USDA report released last fall shows that farmers in the Great Lakes basin have made tremendous strides in reducing nutrient and sediment losses from their lands.

Learn more about NRCS programs and initiatives here. For more information regarding today’s USDA announcement, please contact Ben Wickerham at (517) 316-5106 / Email Ben. For all other inquiries, please contact Rehan Nana, Pheasants Forever Public Relations Specialist, at (651) 209-4973 / Email Rehan.

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