Community Agriculture Alliance: The importance of conservation planning for your property
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Whether you are a new landowner or have been in Routt County for generations, your property can benefit from developing and implementing a conservation plan. A conservation plan considers the natural resources on your property and incorporates them into a management plan that will help to sustain the property.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is a federal agency within the USDA, and one of its primary missions is to work with private landowners to develop conservation plans. This is a free and voluntary service that the conservation service provides to landowners to help ensure the sustainability of agriculture and food production in the U.S. It can also help landowners acquire funding to assist with the implementation of the plan.
A conservation plan identifies the landowner’s conservation objectives and assesses the natural resource issues on the property related to soil, water, animals, plants, air, energy and human interaction. The plan offers alternatives, documents decisions, records progress and tracks successful completion of conservation practices and systems. It helps provide guidance and direction for continued maintenance of conservation systems once established.
Conservation practices in the plan are planned to standards that have been developed by the NRCS to ensure that they address the resource concern and not create new resource concerns.
An example of a conservation plan often developed in our area includes prescribed grazing with the infrastructure to help facilitate the grazing plan, such as cross fencing and livestock water developments. The prescribed grazing plan would be based on a forage inventory conducted by NRCS staff and include a drought contingency plan for years like this one. A conservation plan could also include the restoration of a degraded riparian area through grazing management and riparian plantings.
If the same property has irrigated hay fields, the plan could include an irrigation water management plan and infrastructure upgrades to make irrigation water application easier and more efficient. Another example could include the implementation of no-till in a cropping system to reduce erosion and help improve soil health. The plan could even include a multispecies cover crop to increase diversity and provide additional forage.
The beauty of most conservation plans is that they provide a benefit to the landowner, as well as often benefit the local ecosystems. A prescribed grazing plan can help to provide resilience to a grazing operation — especially during dry years — through planning and ensuring sustainable forage use.
Restoring a riparian area promotes tree growth that helps stabilize stream banks and cool the water for fish. Irrigation water management can improve production and save water by ensuring that the right amount of water is applied as needed.
If you are interested in developing a conservation plan for your operation, please contact the NRCS office in Steamboat Springs at 970-879-3225, extension 3261, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele Meyer is executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance.
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