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American Farmland Trust and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have revived the Pioneers in Conservation grant program in 2012. The program provides small grants to farmers and ranchers for habitat restoration and other environmental improvements on their land. 

Waterway near farmland in Washington State's Skagitt ValleyThe original Pioneers program operated throughout Washington State from 2005 to 2009 with funding provided by NFWF and the Washington State Conservation Commission. A total of 37 projects were funded in the four-year period, including projects to restore riparian forests, erect fences to keep livestock out of streams, and retrofit stream crossings to improve salmon migration, and the program was very popular in the agricultural and environmental communities. Unfortunately, state budget cuts in 2009 eliminated the program.

American Farmland Trust sought and received funding from NFWF in 2011 to revive the Pioneers program. The new version is different in two critical ways. First, it concentrates grants in reaches that are top ecological priorities identified in consultation with government and tribal scientists. Second, the Pioneers program now seeks to align other funding sources to concentrate the impact in these key areas.

This approach has had encouraging results in its first big test in the Snoqualmie River watershed, the first of three pilot areas for the Pioneers program in 2012. Using $30,000 in funding and a part-time staffer, American Farmland Trust identified priority reaches for salmon recovery in the Snoqualmie, conducted an extensive outreach effort to farmers in the area, coordinated other funders (including USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and numerous local organizations and agencies), and helped farmers apply for funding. The result: a $390,000 restoration program that will restore riparian buffers on more than three miles of crucial salmon-bearing streams.

The Pioneers program also serves an important role in field-testing new strategies for providing incentives to farmers and ranchers for environmental improvements on their land. This topic is being debated in the development of the latest Farm Bill and in Washington State policy, and this program provides an excellent opportunity to learn from a real on-the-ground application of new ideas about conservation incentives in farm communities.

For more information, contact Dennis Canty or Christy Carr at the Pacific Northwest office at 206-860-4222.

 

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American Farmland Trust