Waterfall in Oconee State Park, SC
By Lauren Coury
Land. It is all around us- it is a focus of our communities, culture, and politics. However, some of us take land for granted. We see it as an economic resource that can be used to meet the ever-flowing demands of population growth, consumption, and globalization. It is important to realize that preserved land is finite. In other words, a limit exists when it comes to land development. The beautiful greenways, trails, and mountain views that we pass, walk through, and look at in awe could be in jeopardy if they are not perpetually conserved through a conservation easement.
Silos at Denver Downs Farm, a century farm located in Anderson, SC
In working with Upstate Forever’s Land Conservation Program, I have developed a heightened awareness of governmental agencies and programs that are designated to help preserve land. One of particular interest is the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)’s program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Essentially, the RCPP encourages partners and producers to come together and to work towards increasing the restoration and the sustainability of natural resources such as soil, water, and wildlife on both regional and watershed levels. Eligible partners include entities such as agricultural producer associations, farmers cooperatives, local and state governments, conservation-focused nongovernmental organizations, and higher education institutions. These partners work with eligible producers and landowners of agricultural land and non-industrial private forestland, who may enter into conservation program contracts or conservation easements under a partnership agreement through the NRCS program authorities. These four program authorities include: Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP). (You have probably noticed by now that land conservation entails knowing a lot of acronyms!).
By way of these program authorities, NRCS and partners help producers continue to preserve conservation activities in selected project areas. The NRCS provides funding for these RCPP project areas. In turn, partners help leverage RCPP funding and give feedback on what benefits are achieved in these areas. Ultimately, the RCPP establishes a team-oriented platform that is intended to lessen both the financial and administrative burden on producers. The financial resources that NRCS allocates to projects differ depending on the scale of the project- it being either a project that focus on the 8 Critical Conservation Areas determined by the Secretary of State, a national or multistate project, or a project in a single state. One of the priority resource concerns that the RCPP addresses in South Carolina is in the Longleaf Pine Range program, which works to enhance the economic and sustainable value of longleaf forest ecosystems.
Critical Lands Map that Upstate Forever developed in partnership with Furman
Through the RCPP, projects target other resource concerns such as excess/insufficient water/drought, water quality degradation, air quality impacts, and climate change. Recently, Upstate Forever’s RCPP application was granted permission to work towards a formal agreement with USDA. For its partnership, Upstate Forever is working with local partners such as Furman. In order to gauge critical areas of concern, Upstate Forever and Furman partnered to make the Critical Lands Map that indicates the Upstate’s most critical lands that preserve the highest water and habitat quality. They also worked to develop the Shaping Our Future study that is a long range land use plan for the entire 10 county focus of the Upstate. Using this data, Upstate Forever’s project goal is to preserve more than 200 acres of agriculture as many as three sites over the next two years!
Belleview Meadows in Fountain Inn, SC
Considering this program, RCPP projects such as Upstate Forever’s work towards maintaining and enhancing land in a ways that are beneficial to both agricultural and to the environment. It is important that we do not wait passively as urban sprawl continues to increase. We must ask ourselves how we can make an individual impact within land preservation. We can educate ourselves and others on land viability, engage with our local and state governments on the benefits of land conservation, and share posts on the beauty that is preserved land.
John P. Rafferty (May 12, 2017). Urban Sprawl. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/urban-sprawl
NRCS. About RCPP. Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/farmbill/rcpp/?cid=nrcseprd1308280
NRCS. Easement Programs. Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/easements/?cid=stelprdb1042934
NRCS. 2014 Farm Bill – Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – NRCS. Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/easements/acep/?cid=stelprdb1242695
NRCS. NRCS Conservation Programs- Agricultural Land Easement Program (ACEP). Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/Internet/NRCS_RCA/reports/srpt_cp_acep.html
NRCS. RCPP Critical Conservation Areas. Retrieved form https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/farmbill/rcpp/?cid=stelprdb1254053
NRCS. Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Retrieved from https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/farmbill/rcpp/
Upstate Forever. About Upstate Forever. Retrieved from https://www.upstateforever.org/about
Upstate Forever. Land Conservation. Retrieved from https://www.upstateforever.org/land-conservation
Upstate Forever. Your Land. Your Legacy. Retrieved from https://www.upstateforever.org/files/files/YourLandYourLegacy.pdf