The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced April 27 it is investing $330 million in 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships to address climate change, improve the nation’s water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat and protect agricultural viability, including 3 projects in Wisconsin. Projects are awarded through the Natural Resources Conservation Service Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is public-private partnerships working at their best,” said Angela Biggs, NRCS state conservationist in Wisconsin. “These new projects will harness the power of partnerships to help bring about solutions to natural resource concerns across the country while supporting our efforts to combat the climate crisis.” Highlighted below are the three selected Wisconsin projects.

• Improving Soil Health and Water Quality — Dane County Land and Water Resources Department is leading this effort and partnering with the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District in the Mississippi River Basin critical conservation area. The partners will help producers and landowners implement soil health systems and practices to reduce phosphorus loading to local surface waters. Partner cash contributions will complement NRCS funding and provide a menu of incentive options for producers. Project partners have used USDA’s Agricultural Conservation Planning Framework to identify critical areas with high phosphorous delivery potential, allowing for the targeting of project funds.

• Grasslands and Oak Savannas for Water and Wildlife — The Sand County Foundation is leading this effort in the Mississippi River Basin critical conservation area. The Grasslands and Oak Savannas for Water and Wildlife project will work on a holistic effort to increase terrestrial habitat for grassland birds and pollinators, reduce nutrient and sediment loss from vulnerable lands, and improve the economic well-being of farmers and rural communities in Wisconsin’s increasingly-threatened Driftless Area. To achieve these goals, the project will transition sensitive cropland to permanent, productive vegetation; restore degraded grasslands and oak savannas; and support prescribed grazing, perennial buffers and field borders, agroforestry, and invasive species control on approximately 2,000 acres. Project partners will also integrate bird, water quality and socio-economic studies to report on project outcomes.

• Wisconsin Farmland Protection Partnership Project — American Farmland Trust is leading this effort to scale up farmland protection efforts in the state, with a focus on targeting funding to areas underserved by easement funding in the past. This partnership of 18 entities aims to protect land and help create large anchors of preserved agricultural land to help mitigate the high number of farm bankruptcies in Wisconsin, while also increasing adoption of conservation practices on protected land.