Application for private fire aid due Aug. 30

Published online: Aug 28, 2013
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USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering special funding to help agricultural producers rehabilitate private land burned in recent wildfires.

The sign-up period is short, and applications must be in by Aug. 30.

Idaho NRCS has been approved for extra funds for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) specifically for wildfire recovery efforts on private land. The funds can be used to help restore privately owned rangelands and forest lands, reduce soil erosion and re-establish critical wildlife habitat.

The agency has received $2 million in EQIP funding, with a typical cap of $300,000 for individual landowners, which could be increased to $450,000 with a special waiver. Nationally, $9 million is available for WHIP, and Idaho could get its hands on a good bit of that if the need is there, said Jeff Burwell,

Idaho NRCS State Conservationist.

The WHIP cap is $50,000 per person within an ownership entity, meaning a husband and wife could receive $100,000 together, for example, he said.

"The trick is to get this nailed down by Sept. 30. It's a real time crunch for our field offices. We have no idea how many landowners will be coming through the door," he said.

The funds can be used for work such as fencing, seeding, livestock water development, herbaceous weed control, and various erosion control practices on rangeland, pastureland and non-industrial private forest land.

Burwell emphasizes that time is of the essence.

NRCS staff will have get out on the affected land with the landowner and assess which practices are needed to rehabilitate the land. Applications will then be ranked and sent up the line for approval, and contracts with successful applicants must be signed, sealed and delivered no later than Sept. 30, he said.

NRCS will detail staff from other offices to help out in its offices in the counties most affected, but it's going to be tough to meet the deadline in areas where fires are still largely uncontained, such as near Hailey, he said.

If the fiscal year lapses before it's possible to assist ag landowners in those areas, NRCS will probably focus some funding in next year's budget to help landowners rehabilitate those burned areas, he said.

Interested landowners should contact their local NRCS office, call the state office at (208) 378-5700 or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/id/home/.

Source: www.capitalpress.com