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USDA highlights efforts to protect White River watershed | Environment

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USDA highlights efforts to protect White River watershed
USDA highlights efforts to protect White River watershed

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Ann Mills today joined Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes, Senator Mark Pryor, Congressman Tim Griffin, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Terrence “Rock” Salt to announce the designation of the White River Watershed National Blueway. In support of the designation, USDA will invest $22 million in soil and water conservation projects in the watershed.

“The designation of the White River watershed as a National Blueway demonstrates the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to the protection of public and working lands that are crucial to the growth and revitalization of rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The resources made available through this designation will support and promote needed conservation efforts and bolster valuable economic growth and job creation in years to come.”

Healthy rivers and watersheds provide outdoor recreation, clean water, flood and drought protection, and other valuable economic, social and ecological services. The National Blueways System seeks to sustain and enhance these services providing long-term value for the American people. As part of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to establish a community-driven conservation and recreation agenda for the 21st century, designation as a National Blueway will help coordinate ongoing federal, state, and local partners to promote best practices, share information and resources, and encourage active and collaborative stewardship of rivers and their watersheds across the country.

Flowing for 722 miles from its headwaters in the Ozarks to its mouth at the Mississippi River, the White River drains a watershed spanning 17.8 million acres across 60 counties in two states. It is home to 1.2 million people who rely on the economic impact that recreation, tourism, agriculture, and commerce along these rivers provide to watershed communities. The White River is an important part of the wildlife-related economies of Arkansas and Missouri, which statewide accounted for $1.8 billion and $2.8 billion in 2011, respectively.

In recognition of the designation, NRCS, working with its Conservation Partners to establish priorities, will commit more than $22 million to soil and water conservation in counties located within the White River watershed through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Approximately $13 million of those funds will be directed to pasture land to provide soil and water conservation needs that arose from the drought in 2012.

In addition to these new investments, NRCS continues significant restoration work including restoration of over 82,000 acres of the native Bottomland Hardwood Forest ecosystem.  Together with The Nature Conservancy, NRCS has set a goal of restoring an additional 18,000 acres of Bottomland Hard Wood Forest. This includes a 1,200 acre tract of  restored with TNC funds and a portion purchased by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for public use as a part of the Sheffield Nelson-Dagmar Wildlife Management Area. The remainder is being purchased by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as part of Cache River National Wildlife Refuge.

On the Cache River portion of the White River Watershed, NRCS is working with local conservation districts to target almost $600,000 funds for soil conservation efforts in an area that has been identified as the greatest contributor of sediment to the Cache River.

Additionally, the USDA Forest Service manages more than 1 million acres of federal forest land within the boundary of the Blueway, and is engaging in dozens of projects aimed at improving habitat within the watershed.