Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that U.S. Department of Agriculture is accelerating voluntary efforts toward a healthy and restored Chesapeake Bay through its Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI).

USDA will use at least $5 million in financial assistance from two programs-the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program to carry out CCPI in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in fiscal year 2010. This funding is available for single state- and multi-state partnership projects that address natural resource concerns within six Chesapeake Bay Watershed states-Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Approximately $500,000 of the total funding is reserved for multi-state projects.

Proposals for single state projects must be submitted to the appropriate USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) state conservationist by close of business on May 24, 2010. Multi-state and regional projects must be submitted to Financial Assistance Division, NRCS's National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. by close of business (Eastern Time) on the same date. More information about the request for proposals can be obtained at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/pdf/2010-7808.pdf.

Under CCPI, USDA enters into agreements of up to five years with eligible partners interested in enhancing conservation on agricultural and non-industrial private forest lands. Eligible partners include federally recognized Indian tribes, state and local units of government, producer associations, farmer cooperatives, institutions of higher education and non-governmental organizations with a history of working closely with landowners and operators.

Individual landowners and operators cannot submit a partner proposal. An agricultural producer or a non-industrial private forest landowner's land must be located within an approved CCPI partnership project area to be considered for financial assistance through the initiative.

Project proposals in the watersheds of the following river basins will be given higher priority in proposal ranking: Susquehanna, Shenandoah, Potomac (North and South) and Patuxent. In addition, project proposals that offer new approaches to working with socially disadvantaged, beginning or limited resource landowners and operators or further national efforts toward addressing renewable energy production and conservation, mitigating the effects of climate change, facilitating the adaptation of climate change or fostering carbon sequestration, can gain higher priority in proposal ranking.

This CCPI funding is released under the umbrella of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI). Authorized in the 2008 farm bill, CBWI makes $43 million available to private landowners in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in fiscal year 2010.

More information about CCPI can be found at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/ccpi/ and CBWI at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/chesapeakebay/chesapeakebay.html.

NRCS is celebrating 75 years helping people help the land in 2010. Since 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests.