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Photo Credit: NRCS

A New NRCS Partnership in Montana

U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs in the Prairie Pothole Region are critical for the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture (PPJV) to achieve our shared goals and objectives identified in the 2017 Implementation Plan and our state-level step down plans. A new agreement between the PPJV and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) paves the way to strengthen this important partnership.

When Tom Watson began his job as State Conservationist for Montana NRCS two years ago, he introduced his vision for a more targeted approach to conservation using the power of the Farm Bill. From that vision, Montana NRCS developed what is now called Montana Focused Conservation. Montana Focused Conservation is a locally led, partner-centric, and targeted NRCS planning effort. Instead of funding conservation projects on a scattered, farm-by-farm approach, NRCS targets its investments in very specific areas to achieve clearly defined natural resource goals identified by local partners. The focused approach emphasizes planning with the end result in mind, harnessing the power of multiple landowners in one area undertaking similar conservation projects to achieve a regional or landscape-scale result. This effort supports the PPJV’s goal to maintain high private landowner interest in conservation programs while supporting working lands for future generations of agricultural producers.

Tom is no stranger to Migratory Bird Joint Ventures (JV). Prior to his current role, Tom was the Assistant State Conservationist for Oregon NRCS. There he worked closely with the Intermountain West JV and was instrumental in helping to catalyze a strong multi-state partnership in the Southern Oregon Northeastern California (SONEC) region – one of the most important staging areas and migration habitats for wetland birds in North America. Soon after Tom arrived in Montana, a JV Summit was convened with the three JVs in the state: the Prairie Pothole JV, the Intermountain West JV, and the Northern Great Plains JV. During the summit, participants discussed how to increase collaboration between JV partners across the state so that Montana Focused Conservation can better utilize the robust science and decision support tools developed by the JVs.

In 2019, the PPJV and NRCS entered into a new partnership. This new agreement paves the way for the PPJV to provide technical assistance to NRCS in the form of data transfer and application of existing wildlife-habitat models. From this, the PPJV will work with NRCS to develop decision support tools and quantify biological outcomes for conservation practices associated with locally led targeted implementation plans. In turn, NRCS provided additional capacity for PPJV communications that led to hiring our new Communications Specialist, Lucinda Morris. Additionally, we will soon add a biologist to support and work with the NRCS District Conservationists in Montana and enhance partnership building for migratory bird habitat conservation and agricultural producers in these working landscapes. This is an important first step to strengthening the partnership between the PPJV and NRCS across the Prairie Pothole Region.

For more information on Montana Focused Conservation, visit the MT NRCS web page.