PF on the Landscape in Ohio
By Christina Kuchle and Cody Grasser
The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is like CRP, but can be customized to address specific conservation concerns.
The State of Ohio, working through staff at the Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), worked with conservation partners in the early 2000s to develop CREP programs in the Lake Erie and Scioto Watersheds. The State of Ohio and partners contributed non-Federal funds and staff work towards the CREPs, thus enhancing payments to landowners and resulting in well over 100,000 acres in conservation.
Statewide, about 50 percent of Ohio’s private land conservation acres are attributed to CREP. CREP has been an excellent tool to provide more habitat for Ohio’s pheasants. In the Scioto CREP alone, over 35,000 acres of native grassland habitat have been restored. It is not a coincidence that counties with high CREP enrollment also have more pheasants.
While CREP has had a measurable positive impact to the landscape, its future was uncertain as of 2020.
CREPs are created when states sign 15-year agreements with the USDA Farm Service Agency. Ohio’s agreements for Lake Erie and Scioto CREP were coming due for expiration. The agreements were continued through extensions but as of October 1, 2022 those extensions would no longer be possible.
Changes to the federal rules of what was acceptable for the state of Ohio to contribute as cash match and in-kind match for the CREPs had changed drastically. In general, renewing both CREP agreements was going to be much more expensive. There was a concern that the $5 to $6 million annual non-federal contribution required to maintain the CREPs was simply more than Ohio could afford.
H2Ohio was the solution. H2Ohio is Governor Mike DeWine’s response to Ohio’s water quality challenges.
This innovative program provides funding to the ODNR, Ohio Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to address water quality concerns. CREP, while being a great tool for supporting upland gamebird populations, also reduces sediments and nutrients in Ohio’s waterways.
While the CREP nexus to H2Ohio seemed like a good fit, negotiating the necessary funding still took months of planning. Regular meetings were held between state agencies and representatives from the state and national FSA office. Much credit should be given to ODNR’s Division of Wildlife, long-time partner of Pheasants Forever, who advocated tirelessly for the importance of the CREP projects to Ohio’s wildlife and were at the table negotiating and problem-solving every step of the way.
Ultimately, partnership and perseverance prevailed: The renewed 15-year agreements for the Lake Erie and Scioto CREPs were signed and in place by October 1, 2022.
CREP, and the future of pheasants in Ohio, would be dire if not for the H2Ohio initiative. Pheasants Forever is excited that both CREP projects came to a new agreement, ensuring another 15 years of one of Ohio’s greatest wildlife habitat programs.
Both ODNR and PF are eager to work together, and with our other partners, to promote and grow CREP in Ohio.
Christina Kuchle is Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife Wetland Habitat Program Administrator. Cody Grasser is Ohio State Coordinator for Pheasants Forever.
This story originally appeared in the 2023 Spring Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!