A Natural Way To Say Thanks

Bill and Earleen Weaver have reason to be proud. They've turned an eroding farm choked with weeds west of Pine Bluffs into a property at the cutting edge of conservation in the county in only three years.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Bill and Earleen Weaver have reason to be proud.

They've turned an eroding farm choked with weeds west of Pine Bluffs into a property at the cutting edge of conservation in the county in only three years.

They planted grass on 50 percent of their land that will stabilize the soil, and they have plans to plant it everywhere. They will have a 50-foot wildlife buffer around their property that will provide cover and nesting sites for birds and other animals.

They will plan any future grazing around the best times for maintaining grass. They plan to plant shrubs at random through their property to provide nest sites for birds. And they want to plant rows of shrubs or trees that double as wind breaks and snow fences that bring more moisture to their fields.

When he bought the place, Bill Weaver said, he was thinking of making it nice for wildlife, and he's already seeing more.


Thanks to their efforts, the Weavers are two of more than two-dozen farmers and ranchers in Laramie County and Kimball County, Neb., who will split some $180,000 in incentive payments for good conservation practices this year.

They will do so thanks to the Conservation Security Program, which aims to "reward the best and motivate the rest" by paying for and providing technical assistance to growers in more than 200 watersheds across the nation this year who are meeting the highest standards of conservation and environmental management on their operations.

The Weavers' farm was managed so well it was one of only three properties within the Laramie County Conservation District that qualified for the top tier of the program, eligible for payments of up to $45,000 annually.

The award, he said, also will help him pay for things like the soil analysis he does to determine what kind of fertilizer to spread and how much to use. Some growers may use too much because they don't have the money for testing, he said.

Though the Conservation Security Program was part of the Congressional Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, it has taken a while for it to get off the ground. It takes a new tack of rewarding current efforts rather than providing incentives for future action.

"(It's) not what they are willing to do but what they are already doing," said Ray Mowery, district conservationist with the National Resources Conservation Service field office in Cheyenne. "It's kind of a unique concept."

The program also offers financial incentives for program participants to earn enhancement bonuses for additional or exceptional conservation efforts that go beyond what is prescribed.

Weaver could get enhancement payments for recycling used oil and building wildlife escape ramps on stock tanks.

Growers on the Upper Lodgepole Creek watershed that runs west to east through the middle of Laramie County and Kimball County, Neb., were eligible to apply this year. Only one other watershed in Wyoming was likewise eligible -- the lower Laramie in Platte and Albany counties.

These two watersheds were selected, according to Mowery, because they have many farms and have been progressive in writing conservation plans for the sugar beets, pinto beans, alfalfa, corn, sunflowers, wheat, barley and millet grown there.

The awardees had to negotiate a complex selection process that included filling out a self-assessment workbook and meeting minimal eligibility requirements. A stream running through a feedlot might violate the minimum requirements for water quality, for example.

Of about 120 growers at informational meetings, there were 26 applications in Laramie County and seven in Kimball County, Neb. From that pool, 27 were chosen.

But those left out this year shouldn't despair.

Current plans call for the program to rotate through all the watersheds in the state and nation within the next few years.

"People who weren't in watershed this year have an advantage in that they can prepare and keep records for when the program does come," said Cheryl Grapes, a program specialist with the Casper office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The direct benefits go to farmers and ranchers, Grapes said, but the general public benefits indirectly from good conservation practices through cleaner water, air and healthy wildlife populations.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News