SHERIDAN — Healthy soil is productive soil.
That was the driving sentiment behind the once-yearly meeting of the Sheridan County Local Work Group for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service held Tuesday.
The work group seeks to implement local conservation programs and technical efforts, NRCS District Conservationist Andrew Cassiday said.
The group makes recommendations to the State Technical Committee, which is the official adviser to the NRCS on implementing state-level conservation practices through the farm bill on local natural resource concerns.
It also provides guidance on best uses for Environmental Quality Incentive Program funds in Sheridan County, establishing which local resource concerns are top priority and ranking project applications to ensure that funds go to projects with the highest cost-effect benefit.
The Environmental Quality Incentive Program is part of the federal Farm Bill. It provides financial assistance and incentives to implement conservation practices, Cassiday said.
The local work group is comprised of representatives from the Sheridan County Conservation District, Farm Service Agency, Game and Fish Department, Department of Environment Quality, Nature Conservancy, Sheridan Community Land Trust and county commissioners and staff. In 2008, the Farm Bill opened local work group meetings to the public and local participation has steadily increased with this year’s meeting boasting the largest attendance in Sheridan County work group history, Cassiday said.
This year, the local work group established four local priorities including grazing lands/range management, water conservation/irrigation, stream restoration/erosion control/irrigation infrastructure and invasive species control, which is ranked and funded at the state level.
“Grazing lands are the majority land use in the county,” Cassiday said, explaining why range management was listed as a priority. “The water conservation and stream erosion categories both have to do with a real visible and important lifeblood resource in our county, which is our water. We want to make sure we stretch that as far as we can and take care of those water bodies.”
“We are fortunate to have abundant and clean water in Sheridan County,” Cassiday continued. “That’s why those are priorities to make sure water remains abundant and high quality.”
Last year the NRCS Sheridan Field Office received 44 total project applications for a variety of conservation measures such as stock water irrigation design, stream stabilization and range improvement. It ranked 34 projects and was able to fund 10 through a variety of funding options. Five projects were funded with local EQIP funds totaling $388,333.
The remaining 24 projects will either roll over for consideration this year or will be completed by applicants with their own money, Cassiday said. The office has also received six new applications.
Each project application will be ranked quantitatively on how it will improve water use efficiency, how many acres it will serve, how it will help fish and aquatic passage, and other similar measures. The local work group also discussed the possibility of giving higher priority to projects that have multiple funding partners such as the NRCS, the nature conservancy, the conservation district and the wildlife natural resource trust.
Regardless of the project or funding sources, Cassiday said anyone with questions or ideas about a conservation project should call the USDA-NRCS Sheridan Field Office at 672-5820, ext. 3 or stop by the office in the Cottonwood Center on Sugarland Drive.
He will explore options with them for technical assistance and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.