Precision conservation: Right fix for the right acre
By Janet Kubat Willette
Date Modified: 04/22/2012 1:51 PM
ST. ANTHONY, Minn. — Precision conservation creates an opportunity to have a large conservation impact by targeting practices to acres where they will do the most good.
In essence, precision conservation is the right fix for the right acre. It's similar to precision agriculture, said Natural Resources Conservation Service chief Dave White, who was in Minnesota last week for a precision conservation conference hosted by the Freshwater Society. White gave the keynote address and spoke to reporters by phone following his presentation.
The idea behind precision conservation is all acres aren't created equal, White said. Some acres don't need much treatment and others acres do. The idea of precision conservation is to focus on the acres where the most environmental benefit.
In the Mississippi River Basin, for example, there are impaired watersheds. Making changes on certain acres in those watersheds will have greater impact than on others, White said.
Science is helping conservationists determine where practices will do the most good, he said. Work like that being done by the University of Minnesota's Dave Mulla has taken the guesswork out of selecting the most beneficial acres.
Mulla, a U of M agronomist and director of the Precision Agriculture Center, also spoke at the precision conservation conference.
Precision conservation has been done for quite some time in various locales, but never under that name, White said.
One example of precision conservation in action is an effort to increase the sage grouse population in western states.
In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is due to decide whether or not to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. Listing the sage grouse could do to ranching what listing the spotted owl did to logging, White said.
His agency is working with a bunch of partners, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, conservation districts and private organizations in an effort to keep the bird from being listed.
In order to make this happen, they are protecting key habitat. They have identified core areas throughout the 11 states where the birds live. They know that 75 percent of the birds live in 25 percent of the area, so instead of trying to do everything everywhere they are focusing on the core area. If they save the core area through conservation, they figure they can save the species, White said. That's what conservation is about.
Precision conservation efforts are also underway under other names in the Chesapeake Bay area and California's Central Valley.
In Minnesota, precision conservation will likely be tied to water quality, he said. It will be incorporated into ranking criteria when a landowner applies for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Precision conservation will help the agency achieve the greatest benefit possible in an era of reduced federal funding, White said.
In the farm bill prepared for the supercommittee, conservation took a cut of about $6 billion, he said.
"I know there will be cuts," in the new farm bill, which could be brought forward to the full Senate agriculture committee for consideration as early as April 18, White said.
"I expect the budget to go down, but I think we can manage it, and I'm certainly not going to curl up in a fetal position and cry myself to sleep," he said. "I'm going to figure out how to go forward and get some conservation value for the taxpayers of this country."