Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Bi-state partnership scores big for Spokane River’s health

By Brook Beeler

An area of approximately 6,029 square miles of Idaho, Washington and Coeur d’ Alene and Spokane tribal lands stands to benefit from a $15 million investment in conservation farming to protect the Spokane River over the next five years.

That’s huge!

The project covers a big area and its big news for the greater Spokane River watershed and its tributaries. The rivers and lakes in the watershed suffer from several water quality problems including low dissolved oxygen and too much sediment. The pollution comes from a variety of sources ranging from urban stormwater runoff to soil erosion from agricultural and forested lands.

That’s why a partnership of more than 16 state and local organizations banded together to push for a locally led project to improve conservation efforts in the region and ultimately protect our natural resources.

The partnership secured funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which directs the funds toward conservation projects that help improve water quality, enhance soil health and support wildlife habitat.

Agriculture and forestry improvements benefit the river
Agriculture and forestry are important economic industries in Idaho and Washington. A strong economy is dependent on healthy land and clean water.

Many landowners are already applying good practices and are among some of the best stewards of lands. This new program will allow even more landowners to enroll in innovative conservation programs that keep working lands working in an environmentally friendly way.

Direct seed equipment allows farmers to leave stubble
in the field over winter reducing potential for soil erosion.
The project increases access to funds for landowners to apply practices such as direct-seeding and establishing and maintaining forested and grass filter strips, which work to keep soil on farms, preventing nutrients from washing down stream.

Landowners could also qualify for payments equivalent to crop values to keep forested and streamside lands out of production and prevent pollution from reaching streams and rivers.

That’s good for farms, forests and clean water.

Get involved, contact your local land manager or conservation district
The partnership aims to get 150,000 acres of conservation practices on the ground to protect clean water and benefit working lands. In the next five years, partners hope to enroll more than 300 landowners in the project.

Livestock, dry-land crop, and forestry operations can apply for financial and technical assistance, which goes beyond the typical approach and offers landowners additional benefits. Land within the Spokane River watershed in Idaho, Washington and on Spokane and Coeur d’ Alene tribal lands qualifies for the program.

Landowners interested in participating will continue to work with partners they are familiar with, such as Idaho Department of Lands or the Pine Creek Conservation District. Anyone interested in the project can sign up to receive updates through email. The partnership expects to begin accepting project applications this fall and will be developing landowner outreach and community education programs.

Project partners
The partnership is led by the Spokane Conservation District and includes all local conservation districts within the greater Spokane River watershed, non-profit and agricultural organizations, and state agencies and tribal governments in Idaho and Washington.

Benewah Soil and Water Conservation District
Coeur d’ Alene Tribe
Idaho Department of Lands
Inland NW Land Conservancy
Kootenai-Shoshone Conservation District
The Lands Council
Pacific NW Direct Seed Association
Pine Creek Conservation District
Spokane Conservation Distirict
Spokane County Division of Engineering and Roads
Spokane Tribe of Indians
Spokane River Forum
Trout Unlimited, Spokane Falls Chapter
Washington Department of Ecology
Washington Department of Natural Resources
Washington Department of Transportation
Washington State Conservation Commission

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