Conservation programs: Wyoming NRCS introduces new initiativesWritten by Saige Albert
“Right now, things are going very well,” commented Wyoming NRCS State Conservationist Astrid Martinez. “I have a lot of plans, and we are going to work on some new statewide initiatives.”
For the coming year, Martinez mentioned that, while she doesn’t have a budget allocation yet, the agency will continue providing service to prior year contracts of Farm Bill programs. In addition, enrollment authority expired on Sept. 30 for two programs – the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP).
“The authority for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) has been extended and we are accepting applications until Dec. 21, 2012,” she said.
The continuing resolution is effective until March 27, and Martinez noted, “We are still operating under the continuing resolution and the possibility of sequestration."
She added, however, that field offices continue to operate, and conservation efforts are being actively instituted across the state.
“There are no new national initiatives,” said Martinez. “The only new initiatives we have are the four statewide ones – energy, wildlife, forestry health and wildfire recovery – as discussed during out State Technical Committee meeting.”
She continued that the current national initiatives are seeing positive response in Wyoming.
“We increased organic participation in this past two years,” she noted, mentioning that organic wheat is particularly successful. “We requested for funds under the organic initiative, and we are going to keep promoting it.”
The seasonal high tunnel pilot program also changed to a national initiative in 2012, and Wyoming NRCS funded 15 applications for high tunnel programs. This is up from six contracts in 2010 and 11 in 2011.
Of Wyoming’s new initiatives, Martinez noted that funding will likely come from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) or the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP).
Specifically, the Energy Initiative looks at well systems and the use of solar pumping equipment, as well as efficiency pumping plants and windbreaks.
“We are looking for more use of the solar pumps because they take out the power lines and provide a mechanism to keep water flowing in very remote areas as part of the reclamation process,” she said.
This reclamation process involves a mechanism to enable managed grazing in areas where water is limited.
Sage grouse protections
In Wyoming, NRCS is also working to consistently protect sage grouse through the Sage Grouse Initiative, as well as programs under Working Lands for Wildlife.
Working Lands for Wildlife covers seven species whose decline can be reversed and will benefit other species with similar habitat needs. Sage grouse is the only one of the seven species that is found in Wyoming.
“We still have questions about how we are going to do this,” she said. “The Chief Dave White of the NRCS and Director Daniel Ashe for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agree that there are certain practices that, if a producer is applying conservation practices on the ground and maintains these practices, they will have some assurance.”
“For the case of sage grouse, those practices from the Aug. 2010 Conference Report, will be included,” she said.
The Conference report was compiled by the NRCS and Fish and Wildlife Service and includes six action items with the anticipated outcome to enhance conservation efforts to support sage grouse recovery.
The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) has also been a successful endeavor for Wyoming.
“Wyoming is number one in FRPP easements,” commented Martinez, adding Wyoming has twice as many acres enrolled in the program as the next leading state. “We are going to focus on ag lands as our priority.”
By returning to the original intent of the program, she added, “These easements keep those working lands working. We also have great land trusts in the state that is really focused on that goal.”
“There is uncertainty for the program, however, in the levels of funding that will be provided this year,” she said.
“We want to keep working with our partners, establish more partner positions and provide training and tools our employees need to fulfill their jobs,” said Martinez, specifically mentioning that partner positions are of high importance to the agency.
Currently, Wyoming NRCS has 10 positions that are shared with other organizations throughout the state, including the various conservation districts, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Wyoming Game and Fish and Wyoming BLM.
“The strategic watershed action team has five positions hosted by the conservation districts,” she noted. “Pheasants Forever and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory also provides funds for those positions.”
“Of the 10, one position was created with BLM and RMBO and is located in Gillette to serve the Thunder Basin with reclamation,” commented Martinez. “We believe it is the only partner position with BLM in the West."
Martinez has plans to continue developing more partnerships with other groups across the state.
Since taking the reins as Wyoming NRCS State Conservationist, Martinez said she has enjoyed her work.
She began her career with NRCS in 1996 in the Student Temporary Employment Program, which employs students during the school year and/or in the summer. In her 15-plus years with NRCS, she has worked as soil scientist in Greenfield, Mass., soil conservationist in Oconto, Wis. and major land resource area soil survey office leader in Grand Island and Scottsbluff, Neb. She has served as state soil scientist in Wyoming for the past four years.
Martinez said, “One of the joys of my job is going out to the field and seeing the great conservation work made possible through the efforts of NRCS and our partners. I really value the visits to the field offices as well as meeting with our partners. They are the ones who are putting conservation on the ground.”
Dust Bowl commemorated
To highlight and commemorate the nation’s most devastating drought period, Ken Burns will debut a two-part, four-hour documentary called The Dust Bowl.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), former known as the Soil Conservation Service, was created in response to the Dust Bowl, and Wyoming NRCS State Conservationist Astrid Martinez says, “I think many people forget how the NRCS was started.”
Wyoming NRCS is also seeking the stories of Dust Bowl survivors in our state.
“If there are Wyoming Dust Bowl survivors, we would like to get their stories,” adds Martinez. “Photographs would be an added bonus and appreciated."
Martinez encourages Wyoming Dust Bowl survivors to call Wyoming NRCS Public Affairs Specialist Brenda Ling at 307-233-6759.
The Dust Bowl premieres on Nov. 18-19 from 8-10 p.m. EST on PBS.