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AZGFD Receives Grants For Grassland Habitat, Irrigation Projects

Public-private partnerships are keys to securing grants.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Arizona in mid-January to announce grants to the Arizona Game and Fish Department and four other groups to restore more than 15,000 acres of grassland habitat in Arizona and to improve water conservation in the Verde River Valley. The projects receiving grants are part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

Three Focus Areas

The RCPP projects in Arizona announced by Secretary Vilsack will help restore habitat for fish and wildlife along the Verde River and improve irrigation on 1,000 farmland acres. Arizona Game and Fish will work with The Nature Conservancy, Friends of Verde River Greenway, Verde Natural Resource Conservation District and Tamarisk Coalition to enhance 6,000 acres of riparian habitat and encourage more sustainable use of water in the area.

The department also will work to restore grassland habitat for pronghorn and other grassland obligate species in three focus areas: Central Arizona, Eastern Arizona and Northern Arizona.

New Approach

"This is an entirely new approach to conservation efforts," said Secretary Vilsack. "These partnerships empower communities to set priorities and lead the way on conservation efforts important for their region.

“They also encourage private sector investment so we can make an impact that's well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. We're giving private companies, local communities, and other non-government partners a way to invest in a new era in conservation that ultimately benefits us all.”

Will Improve Habitat

The Arizona Game and Fish Department's projects will improve habitat for grassland-dependent wildlife species such as pronghorn antelope, Gunnison’s prairie dogs, black-tailed prairie dogs, western burrowing owls, and Ferruginous hawks. Projects will restore native grasses and forbs to historic grasslands, which will improve food availability and cover, and reduce fragmentation for wildlife.

Resource Concerns

In addition to grassland habitat improvement, AZGFD projects will address resource concerns such as inadequate water and forage, soil erosion, water quality degradation and continued degradation of the watershed due to catastrophic wildfire.

Grants to AZGFD totaled $3 million, while The Nature Conservancy received $2.8 million. The grants represent nearly half the funding needed to complete these projects.

A Boost To State’s Economy

While the announced projects will help the environment, AZGFD Landowner Relations Program Manager Al Eiden says they also will boost Arizona’s economy.

"Along with helping us meet conservation goals, clean land and water investments create jobs in local communities. Conservation work involves building and maintaining infrastructure, which requires the hiring of contractors, engineers, scientists, and other workers," said Eiden. "Conservation also spurs local tourism, because cleaner water and enhanced wildlife habitat provide additional opportunities for hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation. And that is good for Arizona's economy."

For more information, visit the RCPP Web site.


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