Limited grassland funds available

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Mar 14, 2005
by WLJ
Allen Green, state conservationist of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Lewis Frank, state executive director of the Farm Service Agency (FSA), recently announced the availability $2 million dollars for the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) in Colorado.
The GRP is designed to help landowners protect grasslands from conversion to other uses and to support continued stewardship on viable, working ranch lands.
Applications received through March 25 will be considered for the limited 2005 funding.
“Land eligibility is fairly straightforward,” said Dennis Alexander, assistant state conservationist for programs. “Land to be enrolled in the program must be grassland, contain forbs or shrubland, or be land that historically has been dominated by grassland, forbs, or shrubs.”
Production crops (other than hay), fruit trees, vineyards, or any activity that requires breaking the soil surface are ineligible.
“The program is designed to protect our very vulnerable and fragile grasslands and their native species,” Alexander said. “Given our limited funding, we anticipate that competition for enrollment will be intense.”
Landowners have several enrollment options including easements and agreements. One can enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement or choose to enroll in a 10-, 15-, 20-, or 30-year agreement. Two separate funding pools will be used for easements and for agreements. Each pool will receive 50 percent of the total GRP allocation. Landowners should consult their local conservation district, NRCS, or FSA office for further details regarding the differences between easement and agreement payments.
“Funds will be targeted to native, natural grasslands that support certain plant communities and habitat types. Offers most likely to be funded will be part of a sustainable, working ranch unit and consist of natural and native grassland that are in good condition,” Alexander said.
Other priorities for funding will include the existence of adequate fencing and watering facilities, as well as evidence of sustainable grazing management. Four plant communities will be targeted in 2005, including Shortgrass Prairie, Sand Sage, Sagebrush Steppe, and Sagebrush/Wet Meadow Complex. Eighty percent of the offered acreage must support one or more of these plant communities.
Alexander said, “We have designed this program to be as responsive to the needs of Colorado’s land users as possible by permitting grazing that maintains viability of the grassland, as well as haying, mowing, and harvesting for seed production which is subject to certain restrictions during the nesting season.”
In Colorado, GRP will target lands that are under some threat of conversion to rural residential development, as well as land that is threatened to be converted to cropland or other agricultural uses.
To apply for this program and for additional information regarding it, landowners are encouraged to contact the local conservation district office or the local NRCS or FSA office that services their county. These are located in USDA Service Centers across the state. — WLJ