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Thursday, September 14, 2017
Louisianna's First USDA Agricultural Land Easement to be Placed on 100-Year-Old Rice Farm
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Awards $500,000 grant to match federal funding and permanently protect Live Oak Farm in Vermilion Parish

VERMILION PARISH, La. — The Conservation Fund has been awarded $500,000 through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's (NFWF) Gulf Coast Conservation program to complete the first U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Land Easement project in Louisiana. This grant will be matched with funds from the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service's (NRCS) Regional Conservation Partnership Program to acquire an easement that will permanently protect a portion of the 5,800-acre, family owned and operated Live Oak Farm, which has provided valuable agricultural and ecological resources for the community and native wildlife for the past century.

"We are pleased to see this project in Vermilion Parish get started as Louisiana's first working agricultural protection easement under the USDA," said Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M. "Many states have participated in the USDA's working lands protection programs for decades. It is beneficial that Louisiana is now utilizing this funding mechanism to directly support local farmers who are some of the greatest stewards of our natural assets."

Located along the Vermilion River just north of the Intracoastal Waterway, Live Oak Farm is recognized as one of the southernmost remaining rice farms in Louisiana. In addition to rice, the farm produces cattle, crawfish and alligator. The farm is also a significant resource for migratory birds, with up to 70,000 waterfowl wintering on this acreage annually.

"The Conservation Fund expects to not only build on this leading commitment from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation to deliver a successful outcome in Vermilion Parish, but also seeks a longer term mechanism to complete subsequent working lands protection projects across Louisiana," said Ray Herndon, Director of the Central Gulf & Lower Mississippi River Region for The Conservation Fund. "We have assembled an exceptional group of partners to support both this initial effort and the bigger picture of identifying and securing dedicated funding for working lands protection across the state."

"The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is pleased to join NRCS and The Conservation Fund in protecting working lands in Louisiana," said Jeff Trandahl, Executive Director and CEO, NFWF. "Creative partnerships that leverage resources are critical to advancing conservation on the Gulf Coast."

These USDA-NRCS Agricultural Land Easement funds—never previously utilized in Louisiana—will help deliver the permanent protection of priority working lands and high quality wildlife habitats, while keeping them in private ownership. This approach to conservation aligns water quality benefits, habitat protection outcomes, and economic resiliency for Louisiana's farmers. The Regional Conservation Partnership and Agricultural Land Easement programs were created by the U.S. Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill. The project is supported by Louisiana's U.S. Congressional delegation representing Vermilion Parish—U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, U.S. Senator John Neely Kennedy and U.S. Representative Clay Higgins.

"This project in Vermilion Parish is the first of its kind in our state, and stands to become a model for agricultural land preservation efforts across Louisiana," said U.S. Representative Clay Higgins. "Being able to maintain active and economically viable farms while also promoting conservation efforts that benefit wildlife habitats is a win-win for our state. I'm looking forward to a successful implementation at the Live Oak Farm so that we can model and expand our conservation efforts."

The management at Live Oak Farm is also directly contributing to improved water quality for the Vermilion River, currently classified as an impaired waterway. The producers have invested in a tail water recovery system on their rice fields, which captures suspended nutrients and sediments on site, ensuring less pollution downstream. Through this project, the producers will be able to continue implementing infrastructure that benefits water quality in the Gulf Coast region.

"Louisiana NRCS is very pleased that the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, through this award, has recognized the importance of permanently protecting private agricultural lands in coastal Louisiana," said Kevin Norton, Louisiana State Conservationist for NRCS. "NRCS, along with our partners, has sought to deliver the Agricultural Land Easement program here in Louisiana for many years, and, with this NFWF funding commitment and the partnership with The Conservation Fund and private landowners, we now have an opportunity to protect and preserve this important agricultural landscape."

Vermilion Parish has seen a significant decrease in acreage designated as rice fields over the last 20 years. This trend represents a substantial threat to the migratory birds that rely heavily on flooded rice fields for wintering habitat. These flooded rice fields compensate for the loss of wetlands resulting from coastal erosion by providing critical resting and feeding habitat for Louisiana's migratory birds. The working land easement at Live Oak Farm will protect and preserve the agricultural use of the site as well as its function as high quality coastal habitat.

"Private lands are critical to adequately provide high quality habitat to the wildlife of Louisiana," states Jack Montoucet, Secretary of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). "The permanent protection, combined with exceptional management practices, on these private lands, complements LDWF's efforts to provide adequate habitat to Louisiana's wildlife populations. This partnership is to be commended, because LDWF cannot achieve its habitat conservation objectives without the complimentary stewardship of private landowners."

With early support from the Partnership for Gulf Coast Land Conservation, and additional commitments from the Land Trust for Louisiana, the Gustaf W. McIlhenny Foundation, and Ducks Unlimited, the existing partnership intends to deliver on a longstanding objective to support agricultural producers while providing the highest quality habitat for wildlife.

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect nearly 8 million acres of land. www.conservationfund.org



Contact: Ann Simonelli, 703-908-5809, asimonelli@conservationfund.org

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