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Posted on December 9th, 2022 in Aquaculture/Fish, Forestry, Wildlife | No Comments »

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it is awarding $197 million for 41 locally led conservation projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP is a partner-driven program that leverages partner resources to advance innovative projects that address climate change, enhance water quality, and address other critical challenges on agricultural land.

Adult Hellbender

“Our partners are experts in their fields and understand the challenges in their own backyards,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Through RCPP we can tap into that knowledge, in partnership with producers and USDA, to come up with lasting solutions to the challenges that farmers, ranchers, and landowners face. We’re looking forward to seeing the results of public-private partnership at its best, made possible through these RCPP investments.”

The “Farmers Helping Hellbenders” project, led by Dr. Rod Williams and Purdue Extension wildlife specialist/Help the Hellbender project coordinator Nick Burgmeier, is among the projects set to receive funding through the RCCP Classic fund, which uses NRCS contracts and easements with producers, landowners and communities in collaboration with project partners.

Fourteen contributing partners will assist in the project:

With help from nearly $2.7 million in RCCP funding, the project aims to improve hellbender habitat in a four-county region in south central Indiana, the only remaining habitat for hellbenders in the state, by expanding the use of agricultural conservation practices that lead to decreased sedimentation in local rivers systems.

Sedimentation is a major cause of hellbender decline and reduced sedimentation will increase available habitat for hellbenders, mussels, and aquatic macroinvertebrates. This project also will address soil and nutrient loss, which are concerns for agricultural producers, as the targeted conservation practices and systems have been shown to have long-term benefits for agricultural systems and operations.

Hellbender Eggs“Through this initiative, focused on Crawford, Floyd, Harrison, and Washington counties, we expect to improve water quality and aquatic wildlife habitat,” Burgmeier said. “Simultaneously, we hope to improve soil retention and nutrient availability to crops by helping farmers implement practices such as cover crops, riparian buffers, grassed waterways, etc. Additional benefits will include increases in riparian and pollinator habitat and increased protection for karst habitat through the selected targeting of sinkholes.”

As part of each project, partners offer value-added contributions to amplify the impact of RCPP funding in an amount equal to or greater than the NRCS investment. Private landowners can apply to participate in an RCPP project in their region through awarded partners or at their local USDA service center.

“RCPP puts local partners in the driver’s seat to accomplish environmental goals that are most meaningful to their community.  Joining together public and private resources also harnesses innovation that neither sector could implement alone,” Indiana NRCS State Conservationist Jerry Raynor said. “We have seen record enrollment of privately owned lands in NRCS’ conservation programs and RCPP will be instrumental in building on those numbers and demonstrating that government and private entities can work together for greater impacts on Indiana’s communities.”

For much of the last 16 years, Williams and his team have been researching eastern hellbenders, spearheading regional conservation efforts and advancing hellbender captive propagation, or the rearing of this ancient animal in captivity and their eventual return to the wild.

Full article > > >

Additional Resources
Improving Water Quality by Protecting Sinkholes on Your Property video
Improving Water Quality Around Your Farm video
Adaptations for Aquatic Amphibians
Hellbenders Rock! Nature of Teaching Lesson Plan
Nature of Teaching – Hellbenders Rock Sneak Peek video
Nature of Teaching – Hellbenders Rock webinar video
Learn about hellbenders and take a tour of Purdue’s hellbender rearing facility video
Learn about the hellbender work at Mesker Park Zoo video
Learn about hellbender work at The Wilds video
Dr. Rod Williams’ 2017 TEDx Talk Help the Hellbenders video
A Moment in the Wild – Hellbender Hides video
A Moment in the Wild – Hellbender Release video 

Wendy Mayer, FNR Communications Coordinator
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Rod Williams, Assistant Provost for Engagement/Professor of Wildlife Science
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

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