Kansas Forest Service and K-State are recipients of program funding.
MANHATTAN, Kan. — A new $13 million U.S. Department of Agriculture program designed to improve Kansas’ water quality, support wildlife habitat and enhance the environment was announced recently for Kansas State University and the Kansas Forest Service.
The program is part of $370 million in federal funding for the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). In addition, these projects will leverage an estimated $400 million more in partner contributions—for a total of nearly $800 million—to improve the nation’s water quality, support wildlife habitat and enhance the environment.
The Kansas project will implement forestry best management practices on more acres and create a protection framework for remaining riparian forests in high-priority watersheds. The project will help sustain reservoir storage and wildlife habitat, improve the drinking water supply, and increase recreation opportunities.
In a USDA press release, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said 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. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism, outdoor recreation, and other industries,” said Vilsack.
A total of 115 projects were awarded in all 50 states.
Putting Forestry on the Ground
Mitch Lundeen, water quality forester with the Kansas Forest Service, said RCPP will include a significant tree planting component to help stabilize river banks, keep debris off the fields, and ultimately improve water quality by reducing sediment entry into streams.
“Over two-thirds of the Kansas water supplies are located in federal reservoirs. Unfortunately, loss of water capacity in these reservoirs due to sedimentation, will most certainly cause water shortages as demand continues to grow. It is a big deal to help reduce sediment from getting into our water supply,” Lundeen said.
Kansas State Forester Larry Biles said the program is designed to restore the riparian forest systems on the exposed stream banks in Kansas and to improve the riparian forests that currently exist.
“By improvement we will improve general species mix of the timber that is there and the quality of that through corrective pruning,” he said.
The second part of the program is the assessment of watersheds across the state.
“The assessments tell us first, where we have exposed stream banks; second, where existing timber is either too narrow to stabilize stream banks or the timber is of poor quality or species mix; and three, where we have a sufficient amount of high quality timber worthy of saving,” Biles said. “We either need to go in and establish timber because of exposed banks, have timber that needs improvement because of tree quality or species mix, or we need to sustain high quality timber.”
“Through that assessment, we will focus our efforts where the greatest water quality benefits can be obtained by either establishing stream-side forests or improving the health of existing woodlands,” he added.
The assessment will use aerial photography and GIS technology. “We will overlay that information with landowner information and through education, inform and contact these landowners about suggested improvements. We will write a plan for those interested,” Biles said.
The Kansas project will focus on the river systems that feed the high priority reservoirs, most of them are federal reservoirs, he said.
Expected outcomes of the project will be to slow sedimentation into Kansas reservoir systems and to improve timber quality along the stream systems.
“We have the opportunity to grow high quality hardwoods, but we need to get them established,” Biles said.
For more information, contact your local county extension offices, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency or conservation district offices. More information is online at the Kansas Forest Service website.