State Technical Committee Meeting Summary 2012

State Technical Committee Meeting Summary
Oct. 16, 2012

Cheryl Grapes, assistant state conservationist (Programs) welcomed State Technical Committee members.  Cheryl provided the members with the handout that reflected the recommendations to the state conservationist from local work groups for consideration by the State Technical Committee for 2013 programs.

Astrid Martinez, state conservationist, gave the following welcoming remarks:  Farm Bill update; Title II House – Senate comparison (handout); continuing resolution, sequestration; agency streamlining & improvements efforts; last year’s budget brief discussion; soils sequestration; 24 soils offices were closed. 

Cheryl reviewed the procedures for State Technical Committee meeting (handout) and commented that membership is very broad & open and more inclusive than exclusive. 

Environmental improvement programs:  EQIP; WHIP; AMA; continuing resolution funding and programs are based on FY2012; deadline for state level partnership proposals is Nov. 16; and invited an ad hoc committee to meet with NRCS to make recommendations for funding to the state conservationist. Discussion on Working Lands For Wildlife initiative in 2012, incorporates multiple programs; addresses sage grouse & 6 other species.  Cheryl informed the members that the 2012 ranking spreadsheets are posted on the web-site as follows: Wyoming NRCS; Partnerships tab; State Technical Committee tabs. 

Presentation by Mary Schrader, Resource Conservationist – Farm Bill (handout):

Mary briefly discussed the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP); Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP); and Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) state priorities for each program. 

Wyoming currently has the following State priorities:

·         Grazing land management

·         Water quality

·         Irrigation water management

·         Wetlands

·         Prevention of the conversion of agricultural lands to non-agricultural use

·         Excessive erosion

·         Streambank/riparian area protection

·         Fish and wildlife habitat

·         Forest health

·         Energy

A recommendation was made to add drought mitigation and invasive species as state concerns.

Mary went over 2012 EQIP obligations and accomplishments.

The following items were discussed:

·         EQIP wildfire recovery – funding was received late in the year to assist landowners who had rangeland impacted by the wildfires.

·         EQIP State Energy initiative expanded to include tillage system conversion; inefficient pumping plants; windbreak plantings; expiring CRP.

·         EQIP National Energy Initiatives:  guidelines followed from National Energy Initiative are that on-farm initiative be completed by a certified person. It was pointed out that there are currently none in Wyoming.

·         EQIP National Seasonal High Tunnel was moved from a pilot program to a National initiative in 2012; out of the 18 applications that were received, 15 applications were funded in 2012; for eligibility the ground needs to be able to be cropped.

·         National Water Quality Incentive: The Ocean Lake watershed in Fremont County was funded in FY 2012; a total of 8 applications were funded for irrigation system improvements to reduce runoff into Ocean Lake. 

·         Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI):  Establishing a maximum payment cap for 528 Prescribed Grazing Management practice was discussed. It appears that the highest interest has come from Johnson and Carbon Counties.  The point was made that more contracts could be funded if cap was implemented. Out of 61 applications, 29 were funded. A practice can be capped, not a total contract. Consensus was to not apply a payment cap to the 528 practice. A suggestion was made to pay on AUM, however the national standard requires unit for 528 to be acres.

·         A discussion was held on providing practice payments for 528 Prescribed Grazing Management on federal land. Currently, Wyoming NRCS does not provide payment for grazing on federal land because of feedback from the State Technical Committee and federal land agencies. Colorado and Utah do and Idaho does not.  An ad-hoc committee was formed to discuss the issue further and make recommendation to the State Conservationist. The following members volunteered for the committee: Mark Hogan, Bobbie Frank, Marty Griffith, and Frank Eathorne.

·         An announcement for proposals was sent out for a Wyoming Conservation Partner Initiative. This includes project proposals for the National Watershed Initiative as well as any other special projects that partners would like to have considered for funding. Proposals will be accepted until November 16th.  An ad-hoc committee was formed to review applications and make recommendations for funding to the state conservationist. Volunteers were:  Larry Bentley, Bobbie Frank, Jennifer Zygmut, and Ginger Paige.

·         Recommendations for FY2013 EQIP State Accounts: Livestock Waste, Wildfire Recovery, Energy, Forestry, and Wildlife (if WHIP is not funded) 

·         Steve Jones stated for the record that Park County Local Working Group encourages NRCS to limit state initiative funds to no more than 2012 levels and maximize funding provided to local counties.

Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) discussion.  It was pointed out that 2013 funding will likely only be for WLFW.  In Wyoming the Greater Sage-grouse was the species of concern.

Agricultural Management Assistance Program (AMA):  2012 accomplishments were discussed.  14 applications were funded treating 501 acres in Hot Springs County for Russian olive and Salt Cedar control. In the past ten years, AMA has been used to assist in treatment of 12,500 acres of Russian olive and Salt Cedar in the Big Horn River Basin area with assistance provided by numerous partners.

Payment Practice Schedules (PPS) discussion.  Mary stated that the PPS is in progress and is in the final state.  It was pointed out that most practices for FY2012 are set at 75%, which is the highest we can go.  There was a discussion on this point and the consensus by the members was to keep it at 75%.

Conservation Stewardship Program (CStP) discussion. Members were reminded that applicants must address at least one resource concern at the time of the application and at least one additional priority resource concern for each land use during the contract period.  The following were listed as priority resource concerns for Wyoming: animals, plants, soil quality, water quality, water quantity.  Mary said that in Fiscal Year 2012, 57 applications were funded. Enhancements such as pollinators (wildflowers) were discussed.

Cheryl provided information/highlights on Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG). Three State-level applications were funded in 2012.  It was suggested that a CIG be showcased at the next State Technical Committee meeting.  Members agreed. 

Keith Kennedy (Wyoming Ag Business Association) gave a presentation on the “4R Nutrient Stewardship Program.”  “4R” represents use of fertilizer Best Management Practices to ensure the right rate, right time, right placement, and right source.  The goal is to improve productivity and efficiency that benefits water and air quality.

Presentation by Evan Murray, Resource Conservationist – Conservation Easement Programs:

Evan provided information on the following two programs:  Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP).  Authorization for these programs expired on September 30, 2012.  NRCS is waiting to see how they are incorporated under the new farm bill.  The Senate and House bills provide for one new easement program with separate components identified under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

For WRP, Evan stated that 5 easement applications were received and 3 were able to be funded. For restoration-only contracts, 8 applications were received, 5 were funded and 3 cancelled. For GRP, Evan stated that for easements, out of the 7 applications received, 1 was funded and out of the 8 applications received for rental agreements, 6 were funded. It was pointed out that GRP offers permanent easements or 10, 20 and 30 year rental agreements. WRP offers permanent easements or 30 year easements.  

Brief discussion on Geographic Rate Caps (GARC): NRCS is unsure if GARCs will be used for easements under the new farm bill. We were required to develop GARCs so they will be in place as needed.  The State Technical Committee approved the GARCs as developed for 2013 (handout). 

Presentation on Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP) by Cheryl Grapes

Handout titled “Factsheet for Wyoming Landowners” was given to all present and discussed.  2012 accomplishments along with the challenge of closing parcels pending from 2010 and 2011 were highlighted.  It was pointed that the 2013 priority was to focus on working agricultural lands. Cheryl informed the group that all FRPP applications received during the year were able to be turned into contracts.  Cheryl stated that non-working ag land requests were going to be considered on a case by case basis at the end of the year.

Presentation by Casey Sheley, State Resource Conservationist on Regulatory Certainty through the Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative.

The Chief of NRCS and Director for the Fish and Wildlife Service recently signed letters of agreement for regulatory certainty up to thirty years.  In short, if the Sage-grouse is listed, producers will be allowed incidental take if they are implementing and maintaining conservation practices listed in the Conference Report, regardless of program participation, according to NRCS practice standards. The NRCS and Fish and Wildlife Service at the national level are currently developing the mechanics of how this will work. More information will be shared as available. 

Cheryl informed the Committee that a Black-Footed Ferret (BFF) initiative is still being considered for 2013 funding under the Working Lands For Wildlife. NRCS is anticipating additional information. Members expressed the following concerns: 1) Need to explain the program completely to producers, and 2) Keeping prairie dog population in check.  Members requested an ad-hoc committee to discuss and provide recommendations on any proposed BFF initiative.  Steve Jones and Frank Eathorne agreed to serve on the committee.

Astrid asked Jeri Trebelcock send suggestions relating to the drought mitigation to Cheryl.

Cheryl asked the committee to send any agenda items they would like to see included in the next meeting to her.  Cheryl thanked everyone for coming and for their participation.

Meeting was adjourned.