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Watershed Council learns about conservation funding opportunity
Rush Creek Conservation
Golden Sands in Rush Creek Watershed
CRAIG FICENEC of the Sand County Foundation is seen talking with Valley Stewardship Network’s Dani Heisler and Tainter Creek Watershed Council member Berent Froiland prior to the start of the most recent Rush Creek Watershed Conservation Council. The meeting took place at the Retreat Sportsman’s Club.

RUSH CREEK - Almost 20 people were present at the Retreat Sportsman’s Club on Thursday, September 29, for a meeting of the newly formed Rush Creek Watershed Conservation Council. The meeting was the first public meeting of the group.

The guest speaker at the event was program director Craig Ficenec from Sand County Foundation. His topic was funding opportunities from the Driftless Region Conservation Partnership, a combined effort of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sand County Foundation, and other partners.

The USDA-NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awarded $1.5 million for the project to Sand County Foundation.

“The purpose of the Sand County Foundation is to promote voluntary conservation on working lands, Ficenec told the group. “The purpose of the Driftless Region Conservation Partnership (DRCP) is to promote installation of perennial practices on the landscape such as managed grazing, prairie strips and agroforestry.”

Ficenec told the group that the program is a lot like NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) program, with the same application windows, similar applications, and the same technical standards and payment rates. Ficenec said that the rankings for Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) that the DRCP is part of it are slightly different than for EQIP.

“What we find is that proposals coming from members of watershed councils will often be ranked higher than other proposals because they are perceived as having a higher likelihood of success,” Ficenec explained. “That’s because the watershed council provides a supportive framework for a producer looking to engage in a new or cutting edge practice.”

Ficenec explained that the program had a ‘soft launch’ in Spring of 2022 in the Rush Creek Watershed, and would formally kick off in Fall of 2022, with an application window ending on November 4. This application window is the first of two that will be offered by NRCS for 2023 projects.

“The first step in applying for RCPP or EQIP funding should be to pick up the phone and give your NRCS District Conservationist a call,” NRCS District Conservationist for Vernon/Monroe counties, Justin Olson said. “It is better to talk with us about what resource concerns you have and what practices you are interested in to address the issue before you actually apply.”

Olson can be reached at the Viroqua service center at 608-637-2183, or by e-mail at For Crawford/Richland County producers, Karyl Fritsche can be reached at 608-326-7179 or via e-mail at

Question and answer

“It seems like all the programs through NRCS are for new practices, and not to help keep farmers doing the good things they are already doing,” watershed council member Reid Ludlow said.

Olson said that to date, that has been the case with NRCS funding. Going forward, with the historic investment in climate smart agriculture from the federal Inflation Reduction Act, he believes that there will be increased funding for rewarding producers for ongoing climate smart practices.

“All this Climate Smart stuff is basically brand new right now, and we are only at the very earliest stages of implementing that funding,” Olson explained. “Stay tuned, and in coming years, we will have more information.”

Another watershed council member asked Ficenec and Olson if the funding from RCPP or EQIP was disbursed to the successful applicant before installation of the practice, or after.

“Generally the funding is disbursed after the practice is installed,” Olson said. “In some cases, for beginning farmers or socially disadvantaged farmers, the funding will be at least partially disbursed prior to installation.”

Another meeting participant asked if funding would be available to transform existing woodlots into agroforestry/silvopasture.

“Generally, NRCS does not encourage transformation of woodlots into silvopasture,” Olson said.

Dani Heisler, Regenerative Agriculture Outreach Specialist with Valley Stewardship Network discussed how the Tainter Creek Grazing Project was the forerunner of the DRCP.

“The Wallace Center Grazing Project with the Tainter Creek Watershed Council was the model for the DRCP,” Heisler explained. “Now, the DRCP will seek to build on the success of the Tainter Creek model and broaden it out over the entire Driftless Region, with increased funding in coming years.”

One of the things that the Wallace Center program in Tainter Creek, which was not a NRCS program, had allowed was funding to install not just paddock fencing but also paddock perimeter fencing. Often the perimeter fencing is not funded by NRCS because it can be confused with property line fencing. One meeting participant asked if the RCPP program would fund paddock perimeter fencing.

“There is some latitude within the RCPP program to request a modification of a practice standard,” Ficenec responded. “Paddock perimeter fencing can sometimes be funded, like it was for Bad Axe River Watershed Council member Kevin Parr, as long as it is not property line fencing.”

In other business

In other business, Dani Heisler reported that the Rush Creek Watershed Conservation Council had successfully submitted an application for DATCP Producer-Led Watershed Council funding.

“DATCP got back to me regarding the grant, and they were elated to report that they had received a total of 36 grant applications, six from new groups,” Heisler said. “This is nine more applications than they received for the 2022 funding cycle, and what that means is that it is likely that not all of the applications will be funded.”

For 2023, applicants requested a total of $1.5 million from the fund, with only $525,000 available.

Heisler said DATCP would notify applicants about whether or not they would receive 2023 funding in November. She reminded the group that if funded, they would need to send at least one representative to the statewide Producer-Led Watershed Council conference in the Wisconsin Dells, planned for December 13. @font-face {font-family:Arial; panose-1:2 11 6 4 2 2 2 2 2 4; mso-font-alt:Arial; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536859905 -1073711037 9 0 511 0;}@font-face {font-family:Times; panose-1:2 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;}@font-face {font-family:"Cambria Math"; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1107305727 0 0 415 0;}@font-face {font-family:"MS Mincho"; mso-font-alt:"MS 明朝"; mso-font-charset:128; mso-generic-font-family:modern; mso-font-pitch:fixed; mso-font-signature:-536870145 1791491579 134217746 0 131231 0;}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-unhide:no; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho";}a:link, span.MsoHyperlink {mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; color:blue; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;}a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed {mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; color:purple; mso-themecolor:followedhyperlink; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;}.MsoChpDefault {mso-style-type:export-only; mso-default-props:yes; font-size:10.0pt; mso-ansi-font-size:10.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:10.0pt; mso-fareast-font-family:"MS Mincho";}div.WordSection1 {page:WordSection1;}