James Pinsky: Want conservation? Show us the money

James Pinsky

If you want to make the world a better place it takes more than heart, it takes cold, hard cash.

Since July 1, the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District has plenty of both.

“The state legislature allocated a record amount of money to the cost-share program statewide in this fiscal year, so landowners in our district have the opportunity to benefit from that,” said Dana Gochenour, senior conservation specialist with the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District.

The cost-share funding programs administered by Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District play a key role in helping the counties of Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, Frederick and the City of Winchester improve the health and quality of their natural resources by using conservation best management practices. The Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District focuses these best management practices on soil health and water quality to help landowners address concerns in cropland, pasture and forest land.

“Farmers tend to understand the importance of conservation, but just like any business owner they have to prioritize their expenses so conservation doesn’t always make the cut when they have to feed their livestock, grow their crops, feed their families first,” said Gochenour. “The cost-share programs help farmers bridge that gap between what they want to do, what they know they should do, and what they can afford to do.”

According to Gochenour, the change in funding not only helps this year’s projects but last year’s as well. In 2016, all of the district’s cost-share funds were used to fund stream-exclusion fencing practices, known commonly as SL-6 projects, and were 100 percent reimbursed.

“All eligible SL-6’s on the books by June 30, 2015, were guaranteed funding as it became available, which generated a backlog of projects not only in our district but across the state,” she said.

Gochenour explained that because of the backlog generated last year the district could only offer state tax-credits on all of its other programs.

“We are still working on funding those backlogged projects, but this year we have one funding pool specifically for that backlog and a separate one that we can use to offer funding for all of the other great programs we have available,” Gochenour said.

In addition to programs the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District already had, the additional funding is helping to fuel new initiatives as well.

“We have several new programs,” Gochenour said. “The Virginia Conservation Assistance Program focuses on urban best management practices like rain gardens, rain barrels and green roofs. On the agriculture side, we now have programs to help farmers who are utilizing precision agriculture technologies such as variable rate application of fertilizers on crops and another new practice, which provides cost-share to retrofitting agriculture buildings with gutters and downspouts to control roof water runoff.

“We still have all of our hallmark best management programs like livestock exclusion, cover crops, manure management programs, converting cropland to hay, planting trees and many more.

“The difference is that last year we didn’t have enough cost-share funding to pay for all of these great conservation opportunities, and this year we do,” Gochenour said.

While this year’s budget may be larger, Gochenour wants to remind everyone it’s still limited.

“The money will go fast, so anyone who is interested should contact us soon.”

James Pinsky is the education and information coordinator for the Lord Fairfax Soil and Water Conservation District. Contact him at 540-465-2424, ext. 104, or at james.pinsky@lfswcd.org.