187 - Mace Vaughn - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Pollinators


Vaughn NRCS

Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] Developing pollinator habitat on working lands, things like managed forests or farms or range lands often involve expenses and technical expertise that might not be part of the operation. And that's where programs developed by the natural resources conservation service come in. NRCS has a range of programs that are adaptable to pollinators.

And whenever I have questions about those programs, the first person I call is mace Vaughn. Now mace is the VRC society, pollinator and agricultural biodiversity program lead. And in this episode, he's going to walk us through the origins of NRCS. Programs that are put out by this federal agency and administered at a very local level can be it can be used for pollinator habitats if you've ever wondered about NRCS, or if you're somebody who's looking to make some investments in pollinator habitat, this episode is for you.

So this week, pollinator habitat and [00:01:00] NRCS with mace Vaughn.

Mace Vaughn: This is

Andony Melathopoulos: very long overdue. [00:02:00] I am so excited to welcome mace Von to the pollination podcast.

Mace Vaughn: Thanks ed. It's great to be here

Andony Melathopoulos: and I, everywhere I turn, I often see you at meetings and you're, you have a really broad scope to your program. Today we're going to narrow it down, but I'm always excited to have a conversation with you.

Mace Vaughn: And that goes both ways. I really enjoyed watching you move, like move into Oregon state and build this program that you've got on the ground. It's it's fantastic. So yeah, this is great to be able to talk and catch up and share some of my work with your listeners. This is really fun.

One conversation

Andony Melathopoulos: I remember with you in particular, I've had a couple of these is understanding. The natural resource conservation service and its connection to pollinators and, frequently you've had to go over this material a couple of times. And what I hope to accomplish in this episode is for listeners to get a glimpse into that conversation.

So maybe to begin with, can you describe what the NRCS is and the basic premise under which it supports farmers to invest in conservation? [00:03:00] Yeah.

Mace Vaughn: Okay. Yeah, let's start there. So the natural, so you under the us department of agriculture, there's a federal agency called the natural resources conservation service.

The key responsibility for the NRCS is to help administer the most of the technical. I'm sorry, most of the conservation. Programs that are defined and funded under the U S farm bill. So there's the farm bill is this huge piece of legislation that we might come back to and talk a little bit more about that funds everything from protecting farmers and giving farmers, insurance and security to conservation, to food aid assistance for low income families.

Just, there are a number of different pieces under the farm bill that relate to food production in the U S and conservation is a big piece of it. So the NRCS. Administers and provides technical assistance. And that's key. I'll come [00:04:00] back to that for all of the conservation programs under the farm bill, as one complicated aside, there's another agency called the farm service agency that works closely with farmers much more on the production side.

They administer a program called the conservation reserve program, where for that program. The farm service agency administered funds, but NRCS provides technical support. And when we come back, we'll talk a little bit more about these different programs in a moment, but NRCS is this agency. It's at the heart of this.

They're providing the bulk of that technical support. They're providing a lot of financial assistance to those folks who live and work on working on. So farmland range, land, private forest, also tribal lands. They're there to provide an administer several programs, conservation programs that are funded under the farm bill.

And that's really the heart of what they do. One other point is they are based out of what are usually county-based USDA service centers. So most [00:05:00] counties in the U S have a service center where your NRCS conservation planner and there, and maybe some other support staff from NRCS. We're there based, and that's where one would go.

If you were a farmer rancher, forest manager, tribal tribal member, et cetera, to add speaking, to start that process of looking for that conservation planning support. So that's the NRCS overall,

Andony Melathopoulos: I'm always amazed because, oftentimes we think in the extension service, we cover the counties really well.

And in many cases we do. But I'm always amazed at how many staff members there are, for example, in the state of Oregon and how widely spread they are through the counties. There are a real resource at the county level for anybody doing conservation.

Mace Vaughn: I think that's right. And in fact, in many cases, and I think this is hasn't been really smart.

A lot of times cooperative extension has been in the same office or very close at hand to the NRCS and maybe the conservation district, which is a more of a [00:06:00] private entity, a little more locally based. The conservation districts are not tied to the federal agency of the NRCS, but they often work in partnership.

And a lot of times the farm service agency NRC. Harvard of extension conservation districts. They have often been in the same place, which frankly is a great model because of how much they can support each other. Fantastic.

Andony Melathopoulos: Now I, so you've mentioned the conservation reserve program as one kind of program that comes out of the farm bill, but I know NRCS specifically has a number of programs that a farmer can plug into.

And some of them can be a little complicated to understand. So I wondered if you could in broad strokes for give us NRCS programs.

Mace Vaughn: All right. Okay, let's do this. We're going to start, we'll come back to the conservation reserve program. Let's start with NRCS and the key programs they administer.

The one that is probably proud tends to be the most familiar to them, to the most people working in [00:07:00] agriculture is the environmental quality incentives program often referred to as equip. This is a program where a producer, somebody, a farmer rancher, Forrester, like I mentioned they maybe they've got some sort of a natural resource concern, and this is a term used across the NRCS to help think about what are the natural resources that need conservation on the ground.

And so NRCS traces its way back, to the dust bowl. They were originally the soil conservation service and some soil erosion, whether it's from water. Or wind has always been a key natural resource concern. A wildlife has a resource concern, plant diversity and plant health as a resource concern, air quality energy efficiency.

These are all these different resource concerns that a producer like somebody on a working line. It might have. And so they would go into their NRCS office and through the equip program, they could apply [00:08:00] for, to have somebody from NRCS, come out, look at their farm. Talk about the concerns that they might bring.

Like maybe they've got an erosion concern, maybe. They're worried about pollinators and they want somebody to come out and say, Hey, look, what could we be doing better for pollinators, native bees, honeybees, butterflies, whatever it might be on our lands. And then the planner, the NRCS planner would work together with that producer through the environmental quality incentives program to assess the resources on the farm and then come up with specific.

Practices that could be contracted, that producer could implement where they would get a little bit of cost share. It's tenderly generally designed to be a 50% cost share. If you're historically underserved producer, so a new farmer, a woman farmer, a farmer from a BiPAP community, black indigenous people of color historically under served farm communities, you can get a 75%.

Coverage of those costs and allow the heart of equip is that there are [00:09:00] specific practices that you're going to implement on the ground. And we can talk some more about those practices later, but you're basically being paid to implement a practice or two or three for what you sign a contract and entered into an agreement with the NRCS or with the federal government.

So that's equip environmental incentives program. Now that's different from, let's say the conservation. Stewardship program C S P conservation stewardship program. That's a program that was the developed under the farm bill. Again, that's meant to reward producers who are already doing amazing work on their farm.

Like they've got a great farm plan where natural resources are really being conserved. They've got a whole suite of practices. That are already being implemented to be sustainable, maybe regenerative to be protecting all of those, those resource concerns of air, water, plants, animals, energy, et cetera.

If you go [00:10:00] through an assessment process, We're NRCS determines that, Hey yeah, look, you're doing a bunch of great stuff. And through that program, if you qualify based on that assessment, you are given a payment per acre of your farm enrolled. So across your whole. And then on top of that to maintain your CSP status, you also have to take on some additional conservation work.

They call them enhancements. So their practices under equipped, they are enhancements under CSP and they tend to be closely related now. They tend to be, they tend to link together and you'll receive an additional payments. On top of that, per acre, pardon me? On top of that per acre base payment and additional payments to implement those enhancements.

And those enhancements might include pollinator habitat. DROS prescribed grazing plans for pastures that are designed to lead to more bloom and these sorts of things. [00:11:00] So that's the conservation stewardship program in a nutshell. So you've got equip. You've got CSP. Okay. We've got the easement programs and easement programs.

I've seen some evolution over the years. Some of your listeners may have heard of WRP the wetland reserve program. There's been w R E P the wetland reserve enhancement program. The grassland reserves program. There are a whole suite of these programs that are all built around easements. And they're currently under the umbrella of ACEP, the ag conservation easement program.

And through this. Land is taken out of production, set aside and restored for restorative managed for their natural resources. That's the goal of this program. And so how it rolls out varies depending upon if it's wetlands or grasslands But the heart of it in this case is that NRCS takes a significant role in helping to manage those easements often working [00:12:00] with partners.

And if the easement is a permanent easement and RCS covers a hundred percent of the costs of restoration. Or that easement, if it's a 30 year easement, I forget what that percentage is, but they cover less than a hundred percent. So they're investing more. If it's an easement that they can count on in perpetuity.

And then the goal there is these tend to be very highly valuable lands from a conservation perspective. Wetlands are highly valuable, intact grasslands and native range. Some of these range lands and grasslands that are out there again, we've got high biodiversity, high ecological value. That are then able to be managed very specifically for those natural resources.

And sometimes there are hiccups with this, but the heart of the program is either taking that land out of production or ensuring that it's going to stay, for example, in a wetland with high ecological integrity, for imperpetuity.

Andony Melathopoulos: So if I get this straight, there's almost, it almost appears as the programs are.

In some [00:13:00] ways a continuum, so an equip, a summit producer, who's going to be investing in equip may be doing some environmental. Some practices on their on their farm to bring, deal with some small issues. The conservation stewardship program is for somebody who may have a much more comprehensive role in conservation is taking a much bigger role on their farm.

And the easement program is really focused on taking land. That's targeted and of high conservation value and making investments to make it like. Rather, it's not a working farm anymore, but it's like a working conservation program. Did it, is that kind of, is that a correct kind of characterization?

Mace Vaughn: I think that's a fair summary. Okay. Certainly equip and CSP were built that way with the idea of CSPs. Hey, if you've been working with us for a number of years under the equip program, maybe you've achieved some new status. Some, the overall framework is, Hey, we want to reward you for doing all that great work and help you.

The costs of maintaining that and in a way, right? Like you're maybe implementing all that [00:14:00] conservation comes that, some expense and and time and energy, and it's, it was really initially meant to be that reward. Actually, if you go way back to really target conservation. It used to be targeted towards specific Pacific watersheds.

It used to be a watershed based program where it was meant to also be a way to say, Hey, we're going to target our energy here in this area that has a high need or seen as value. And that's when we moved away from that. So I know, I apologize that may confuse people a bit. But if you go back to its roots, it had some watershed based goals as well.

Broadly distributed, and it's really meant to help reward those folks. Who've already adopted a lot of cravings, a lot of great conservation on their farm or ranch.

Andony Melathopoulos: That's fantastic. That's a great, that's a great one. Oh one. Thanks so much. I'll have to relisten to


Mace Vaughn: We can't leave out CRP.

We should go back. We see our team, the conservation reserve program, even though financially this administered by the farm service agency. And RCS provides all the technical guidance for it. And it's a little [00:15:00] bit different in that this is a program. It's actually one of the first conservation program under the farm bill back in.

I want to say 1986. The goal of it is to pull out highly erodible lands or lands considered of high value for protecting particularly water quality. So it was a lot of slopes around streams and rivers. Originally it's, it's meant to be land that seen as potentially low value for agriculture high value for protecting soil and water.

Resources and wildlife too. Don't get me wrong. And the goal here is you enter usually into a 10 year, sometimes 15, but usually a 10 year contract. And then you are paid a per acre payment. For the land that you've pulled out. And also given some additional incentives to implement put particular conservation practices on the ground.

And sometimes these are just a hold soil. It's just putting a bunch of native grass on the ground and calling it good. But sometimes you can get paid a little bit more [00:16:00] to create really high quality policies. Under the pollinator conservation practice CP 42 or you might implement bird habitats or do bottom land hardwoods.

There are a number of specific conservation practices there, but the heart of it is that it's a sort of a temporary. Land retirement program or lands pulled out of production and put into some sort of cover. That's really meant to address certainly soil and water conservation. But then I ideally additionally, additional benefits above and beyond

Andony Melathopoulos: that, I remember there's some work by Clint auto with the U S geological service.

And he pointed out that this had traditionally been a very important program for beekeepers. But that over time some of those lands haven't been enrolled for whatever reason. But the the CRP program in the great Plains has been a real boon to the beekeeping industry who, a large number of callings move in to that area.

Mace Vaughn: Oh, absolutely. CRP has been huge for yeah. Huge for [00:17:00] beekeepers, huge for that old community. And Clint's work really made that clear or really cleanse work really makes that clear. And the ups and downs of CRP. Really frankly, directly to the farm bill and actually indirectly to commodity prices for things like corn and soybeans.

If we go back and I'm gonna, I might mistake the year when I say we go back to the late nineties we had under the farm bill, an overall cap for CRP conservation reserve program at 36 million acres. And in the 2008 farm bill at that point, the cap was set at 29 million acres and the 2014 farm bill that was dropped again, because we were seeing a huge spike in in prices for corn and soybeans.

So farmers wanted to take a lot of land out of CRP and put it into corn and soy, even marginal land that really was not super productive. And as a result, there was not a lot of political pressure to maintain that high [00:18:00] acreage cap. And it dropped another 5 million acres down to 24 million. So to go from 36 million to 24 million over the course of a decade or so, that's a huge drop.

And that was land, as you suggested, that was really critical summering ground for beekeepers. And especially in North Dakota, South Dakota, maybe Eastern Montana down through the rest of the great Plains. Yeah, that's a real challenge. That's now back, gone back up to 29 million. Actually I think the bank, so I'm sorry, it went from 36 down to the low thirties to 24.

And now we are back. Thanks to the 2018 farm bill. We're now back up to 29 million and slowly trying to creep our acreage count up.

Andony Melathopoulos: I suppose it's difficult with some of these programs because they offer, they often serve dual purpose as being priced support at the same time when prices are low.

Trying to create revenue that, seems to have a good marriage with conservation outcomes. It has that kind of dynamic with commodity

Mace Vaughn: prices. I think that's right. And they're exclusively voluntary [00:19:00] programs. No one's mandating that somebody goes out there and enroll in CRP or enroll in equip.

These are all voluntary. And that lens its own challenges. And there are all sorts of challenges too, around how do you, how much do you price per acre for CRP and have it be fair with the farm community and not undercutting? Farm prices like farmland prices and things like that.

There's just a lot of, we're really talking about this at a very high level and there's a lot of politics and a lot of detailed policy issues, just one step below that, that make it even more complicated. But for now just understanding these different caps. I I think it's helpful for understanding where we are with say forage, for example, across the.

Andony Melathopoulos: I just want to, before we take a break, I just want to shift over to one thing that you mentioned about the programs and just to get a broad overview. So you talked about enhancements with the stewardship program and practices with the equip program. Can you just give me, how the.

Practices and enhancements may serve pollinators. Cause I imagine like you say, there are also, some of them may be doing [00:20:00] water quality soil erosion. Tell me about how some of those can plug into specifically creating habitat for Poland.

Mace Vaughn: Yeah. Oh, for sure. And in fact, this has been the heart of my work for going back to 2004.

Recognizing the potential of all these conservation programs to be providing at the very least, ideally, technical assistance, if not financial assistance to get pollinator habitat on the ground. I started this collaboration with NRCS back in 2004 and have continued to work with the agency since then.

And, we've seen over a million and a quarter. Acres of habitat, go on the ground through these different practices and enhancements over the last decade or so. There's this huge potential here. If we look at those practices and enhancements, they can include a whole range of different things.

So for example with our work in California, where land is really high value hydros Hey, we've got really droughty conditions and we're water resources are really scary. [00:21:00] Hedge rows become a key practice that we implement a lot of. We've within RCS and the different work, like the work we've been doing with them.

We've got over a hundred, 125 miles of hedgerows that have gone on the ground in the last decade down there designed for pollinators. And you could get. Per linear foot payments to create a diverse Headrow with a variety of shrubs, even some wild flowers in there designed for pollinators.

There is a practice and that's, everything's got a code it's federal government bureaucracies there. Isn't going to have a number. So that's four, two to the hedgerow practice. There's also a practice called. Wildlife habitat establishment or wildlife habitat, planting practice for 20. And this is one geared towards planting and maybe a meadow or a Prairie, some sort of permanent, more herbaceous habitat on the ground.

There's a field border practice where maybe you've got a strip or maybe you've got a pivot. I'm in an ag field. That's not that you have a crop where you want to put something on there. That's going to help keep the weeds out and support [00:22:00] pollinators. You might use the field border practice, 3d six.

You might use a cover. One thing that for a lot of farms, if you want to break pest cycles, if you want to put down something cheap that you know is not a long-term commitment, but where you want to get something on the ground, that's blooming where you could be building soil, carbon but also feeding some bees and other beneficial insects.

You could contract the cover crop practice three 40 and put that on the grounds. You could contract herbacious wheat control to try to get bad weeds out of your farm. There are management practices, Upland wildlife habitat management is 6, 4, 5 and declining species. Management is 6, 4, 3.

These are management practices where you can develop a little more comprehensive plan to maybe let's say if you're here in Oregon, put some Oak Savanna back on the ground or help restore or enhance or improve let's use improve, not to be confusing. Some Oak Savanna habitat for pollinators and wildlife and just overall biodiversity.

Andony Melathopoulos: Oh. So in those [00:23:00] practices, it's more comprehensive. It's I'm going to T rather than a Headrow or a cover crop, you're going to actually take a piece of habitat on your land and perhaps bring it up to the level that it was before.

Mace Vaughn: Exactly. Exactly interesting. And a couple, and then new, there are other little practices you can do.

You can develop a grazing management plan that maybe allows for more rest where you're going to get out. Again, all of these involve some sort of a per acre or per linear foot payment, maybe a grazing management plan that allows that is designed for improved range or past. But also designed to allow some more balloons to happen.

Maybe it's some fencing to keep, livestock out of riparian areas, or maybe it's one of the riparian practices or basis or Woody plantings where you're doing restoration along streams and actually putting in improving the habitat, adding pollinator plant. Along stream corridors, that's designed ideally from my perspective to do multiple benefits, right?

Pollinator habitat, stream, shadings, stream, bank stabilization. [00:24:00] Ideally we do these practices in a way that we're supporting pollinators, but also improving water quality, stopping erosion supporting other wildlife, et cetera. I'll add one last thing I've described all these practices, quote, unquote, under equip under CSP.

They're often just grabbing the same practices and calling them enhancements and time. Sometimes under CSP things, get a little more specific. For example, there may be a Monarch butterfly specific enhancements or a beneficial insect, specific enhancement. Sometimes they drill down a little bit deeper under the CSP program, but they're really closely related at this point.

And so there's a, if you understand the equip practices and you could go online and actually look at these, and one of the links we'll set up in the, for this podcast. One of the links we'll set up will be a link to a set of guidelines. I developed several years ago on how to use farm bill programs for pollinator conservation.

And it provides a really [00:25:00] nice and succinct summary of all those programs we talked about just now, as well as all these different practices and enhancements. And even under CRP, the different conservation practices under CRM. Because not to confuse matters, but those are different to,

Andony Melathopoulos: okay. And just to put a fine point on this.

So for the when looking at enhancement and practices between the two programs enhancements may have just a little bit more specificity to them, but they're going to be, there's going to be a parallel between these ahead DRO for. The stewardship program is going to be, it's going to have the same kind of there'll be some overlap in those guidance.

So somebody who's been doing equip and wanted to maybe transition to doing the conservation stewardship program, they'll be familiar. It's not like a big quantum jumpers.

Mace Vaughn: Yeah. And that's yeah, that's pretty much been on purpose just in the last five or 10 years to help people get their head around.

What is it that I'm looking at doing? What's going on? We want to, they, I think rightly so wanted some continuity there. So if you've been working with one, when you one program, when you switched to [00:26:00] another, you can recognize the roots of things and have a sense of yeah. Just what you said it like, oh yeah, I see what.

Andony Melathopoulos: Fantastic mate, let's take a quick break and then we'll come back and just maybe get in a little bit more to activities that are going on here in Oregon. Okay, great. I always love having those conversations between the breaks. And one thing that I, you know that we were talking about is that there, there is, there are practices specific to habitat, but they're also practices developed for protecting bees from things like pesticide exposure.

Can you tell us a little bit about those practice?

Mace Vaughn: Yeah, one of the practices under equip number 5, 9, 5, it's called pest management conservation system. And the goal of this practice is to the traditional goal of the pest management conservation system. I'm just going to call it five ninety nine.

apologize for that, but it's easier to say the key goal of 5 9, 5 traditionally has been water quality protection. So there are tools in place within NRCS to help evaluate the risks to drinking [00:27:00] water into fish habitats. Of pesticide use herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, et cetera, two adjacent waterways over time.

Many of us have recognized that 5, 9, 5 also could be used to help reduce risks to honey bees, native bees, beneficial. That are helping to, attack crop pests, for example. And so there's been an effort to try to understand and support the implementation of this practice to, yeah. To help them, still make sure that farmers aren't losing a crop to their pests, but to give them some support as they might adopt reduced risk practices, say mating disruption.

Pretty now pheromones that help interrupt the ability of pest insects to find their mates in the field, which really drops down or has the potential if used at a big scale to drop down lower pest pressure or maybe it's supporting practices. Where we're spraying pesticides at a time of day that's least impactful or creating barriers to prevent drift [00:28:00] offsite or onsite onto a farm or, just a whole suite of different things, setting the Korean setbacks into crop fields where we don't spray the edges of a field in order to protect maybe some adjacent habitat.

So 5, 9, 5, this pest management conservation system practice. In theory, it can be used for all these things. It's a pretty complicated one to for the NRCS to contract. And so it's a little hard. It's where cooperative extension actually plays a huge role. The NRCS is not allowed to make any sort of pesticide recommendations, but if cooperative extension says, Hey, we've got a new tool or a new pesticide, for example, that is.

Much lower risk to all those beneficials it's possible that cooperative extension could work with the landowner and NRCS to outline what this new practice might look like on the farm. This new pest management practice might look like on the farm, and then there's potential to get some contracted financial assistance to help cover what might be [00:29:00] increased costs or the costs of adoption, where you've got to learn and figure it all out.

That is. Possible under equipped through the 5, 9, 5 practices.

Andony Melathopoulos: It's an exciting program for me is an extension a specialist, because I can just imagine, getting the ball rolling with a new technology that has lower impacts on pollinators. They, the growers may need a little bit of a.

Cost share assistance and that, it can imagine ramps up and then maybe it's no longer, it's just the standard practice. Everybody uses mating disruption because of that initial investment in this practice helps us roll it out.

Mace Vaughn: Yeah, and I think that's very much the goal of the practice.

Just because taking on anything new, in fact, it's really the rule of all of these conservation practices. Ideally, when you adopt them and you get some financial assistance to cover that adoption, it becomes something that you, that the landowners figured out, they got their head around it. And implementing it is, becomes just part of the operation and not an extra or undue costs.

It's something that I'd be like, this [00:30:00] is worthwhile. Maintaining farm production, if not increasing it and meeting all these other goals as well.

Andony Melathopoulos: Fantastic. Thanks for that little detour, but I want to come back over with something you mentioned earlier on. I wanted to take up again. Each time there's a farm bill.

There seems to be a S subtle change. And sometimes that's lost on me and others. But the NRCS programs seem to around pollinators seem to change. And it seems like most recently the farm bill. Due to a lot of, pushing and in a lot of pressure changed again. So could you explain how this works, the connection between the farm, a farm bill and how the last farm bill, how it changed the pollinator programs specifically, or the focus of policy?

Mace Vaughn: Let's go back. We're to go back a couple of steps, actually, just for a big picture for your listeners. We get a new farm bill every say five years or so. And there are lots of changes on all these, all those different elements that I mentioned before in terms of food support for low-income families.

Conservation of support for farmers, risk like [00:31:00] risk reduction for farmers and crop insurance and things like that. Also research, I forgot to mention a lot of funding for research. So if we go back to the 2008 farm bill, we were just coming out of this. First few years of colony collapse disorder.

We've been seeing, starting to see these declines in Monarch, butterflies and in bumblebees and a whole suite of different things. And so worked pretty hard with Senator boxer's office in California, Senator bloom. A Congressman Blumenauer his office here in Portland, and we're able to get into the 2008 farm bill, some specific language that made private pollinators, a priority.

One of the conservation priorities. Or the farm bill conservation programs, and also set up and expanded support for pollinator research, honeybees and native bees in terms of their role in crop pollination, and thinking about things that we could do to help either support or enhance that service. So the 2008 farm bill was a huge one for pollinators.

It completely [00:32:00] elevated the potential and the expectation that the NRCS for example, would be taking on pollinators in a big way. We go, if we go forward five or six years to the 2014 farm bill, as I mentioned earlier, we saw that reduction in the CRP acreage cap. That was a big hit. But at the same time, some great things happen for beekeepers.

In the 2014 farm bill, there was a renewed emphasis and a spotlight on habits. For honeybee habitat in the Northern great Plains. So that core area where so many beekeepers take their hives to over summer to put on a honey crop and get healthy and rebound after moving around for pollination contracts.

Also it set up beekeepers to be eligible for crop insurance, quote unquote, if they have big hive losses for a variety of reasons. So those are a couple of big changes in the 2014 farm bill. And if we go ahead and now four more years since the 2018 farm bill, probably the biggest change [00:33:00] there. And the most important thing for pollinators was USDA set up a new position within the office of the chief scientist a new position that was in charge of overseeing and tracking all of the research and some conservation, but mostly all the research and work going on for pollinators across the country and trying to figure out how best to support that and keep that going on.

Throughout all of this. Probably with under equip and CSP and CRP, that priority for pollinators has been maintained. So this is still a resource concern of high, high value, high importance to NRCS and the farm service agency. And so that element in law, in statutes of the farm bill is still there and something, every time there's a new farm bill, that's one of the most important things I tracked just to make sure that stays.

Andony Melathopoulos: I will put this in the show notes. I've really enjoyed the new position with USDA. And I know people who don't know there's a periodic newsletter that now comes out the latest buzz. It's a real treasure [00:34:00] trove of information of what's going on around with with pollinators around the U S I'll.

I'll put a link to how you can sign up, but it's a real anyways, so lots of things happened in, in the kind of. Off of different pressures that are happening in society. And a farm bill must have so many different interest groups at the table coming up with something that is agreeable to everybody must be a tricky business, but,

Mace Vaughn: oh, it's so hard.

And that's where actually pollinators were really nice. It was a, an issue that. Was bi-partisan, non-controversial kind of floated above a lot, like the, like so much of the politics out there with something that everybody could get behind. There's some other things out there that I'd like to see.

Oh, actually one other huge change in the last farm bill was that it used to be 5% of equip. Had to go to wildlife conservation and one big win for pollinators is that got bumped from 5% of those hundreds of millions of dollars to 10%. Wow. So that meant a doubling [00:35:00] of funding for wildlife practices of which pollinators are considered one.

Now that could be fish. Dear and Sage grouse and Prairie chicken, and, bog turtle. That could be a whole suite of different wildlife species, but pollinators are definitely included. And, sometimes it's nice if an NRCS office can, add a bunch of cover crop to their list of things, or they probably do it through a different practice, but, Pollinators give the NRCS state offices, some additional flexibility in terms of what they can report up the line that's gone on the ground for wildlife.

So that's another really key change to the last farm bill that yeah. Was God had some of those politics that are real. Fantastic.

Andony Melathopoulos: This is great. I want to zoom right into Oregon. And another initiative that I know the society has been very pivotal in bringing about has been a new NRCS program in the mid Columbia region, focused on pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Can you describe what that, what is a conservation innovation? [00:36:00] Strategy and close.

Mace Vaughn: So Oregon does things Oregon often, Oregon NRCS often has done things a little bit different. They've been very focused over the years on watershed planning or regional planning. There's been a Oh, a critique of NRCS over the years.

And it's a lot of quote unquote sort of random acts of conservation. And Oregon NRCS many years ago, decided to go down a route where they wanted to really try to target target their resources in a particular area around a particular resource concern to try to, have a measurable impact and measurable.

And that overall strategy is now called. Those are now called conservation implementation strategies for your clothes. And there are many of them across Oregon that are really designed to focus. For example, in books, Savannah or on fire risk reduction or on deer management or, soil erosion under Hazel nuts, there are a number of these different, what I call CIS [00:37:00] is conservation implementation stress.

And it's just a way to target equip dollars. So we're focused on the equip program, the target equip dollars on the ground. And so working closely with folks at the Oregon and RCS state office, as well as with their field offices in Wasco, which is the Dalles area and hood river counties. We worked with those field offices and the state office to develop a conservation implementation strategy for the Columbia.

Base in mid Columbia basin for fruit crops there. So this is a specific program. That means it's a specific set of funds that are set aside by the state that are targeting and available for fruit producers. In that, in those two counties, in those two sort of basins or watersheds. If you for example, I'm trying to remember that I'm trying to, I want to get the criteria in my head.

If you've got land that is within 500 [00:38:00] feet of a focal crop. So cherries blueberries vineyards, apple pear maybe other stone fruit that's being grown in that area that helps you then be eligible for getting additional funding to implement things like. The practices we've talked about before hedge rows, wildlife habitat, cover crops field borders, maybe windbreaks a whole suite of different practices that would be geared towards supporting the pollinators of those fruit crops.

Also vineyards rolling there too. Grapes don't need a pollinator necessarily, but Hey, if you've got a vineyard in the hood river or Dalles area, that's still a fruit crop that would, you know, where you would be able to enroll. And it just

Andony Melathopoulos: strikes me. I, we had corn piece from Xerces society and NRCS on a previous episode who comes from a vineyard background.

There's a lot of vineyard pollinator habitat. I've just, it just seems to pop up all, I get another post or another news story of somebody trying it in vineyard. So even though they [00:39:00] don't know the bees, they seem to be getting into the decision.

Mace Vaughn: I think they really like it. I think they've got some there management systems often lend themselves to being able to do this.

Plus we often with Xerces and NRCS are working with vineyard owners. We're often too thinking about what can we do in terms of supporting beneficial insects that might be attacking crop pests, attacking those great pests. So that's another thing like a lot of times when we build quote unquote pollinator habitat, We can design that to feed pairs of toys, tiny little wasps or flies that are attacking pests or the big predators, like wasps that are, getting in there and eating cabbage Looper, or all these different things that might be out there.

Not capture super wouldn't be in a vineyard, other soft-bodied pests that are out there, these often overlap nicely. And sometimes the primary driver is more supporting beneficial insects that are attacking crop pests than it is supporting. Crop pollinators themselves. All

Andony Melathopoulos: right.

Ma just to put a bow on this section. So let's say I'm a fruit grower, or let's say I'm a hazelnut grower or a grassy [00:40:00] grower let's aim on the coast and coastal cranberries. Or I have a Woodland that I'm managing. How did I get the ball rolling? How do I, I want to do pollinator habitat. How do I get started?

What's my first.

Mace Vaughn: Yeah. The first thing that you, the first thing you need to do, frankly, is just step into, your local service center office. COVID the staffing of those offices is often been reduced. So you could try and give him a call or stopping in, but looking up your local USDA service center, and we can put a link into the I'm sure.

Attached to this podcast to help you. Find a way to connect directly to your local service center. And talk to somebody, there are a number of criteria that need to be met. You've got to have you got to meet certain income requirements. If you're making, if you're too big of an operation or you're making too much money, you tend not to qualify.

This tends to be for a small to midsize some large farms, but there are some income caps. So we can. Good resources where they're [00:41:00] needed, by the folks who really need them. And there's an application process that you would get started on, but it's always best just to start by talking to somebody somebody from the NRCS in your local field office.

For example, if you're in Wasco or hood river, it's going into the dowels field office or the hood river field offices up in Parkdale with forest service, going in and just talk. To folks there to get the ball rolling, figure out what you need to do. You don't necessarily need to enroll in file a whole bunch of paperwork to you don't have to, just to go for financial support.

You can also go in and talk with them just about getting some technical advice on what's going on your farm and just chatting with them. There's no paperwork for that. It's something that they're geared up to do. And if it's in an area that has. The partner staff like my staff. Sometimes you can get some advice from a person that way.

Or they may just be able to tap into local resources. They may be able to reach out to Anthony if they're in Oregon and make a connection there and get some advice, they, and there's

Andony Melathopoulos: so many resources, a number of them are done cooperatively with the [00:42:00] Xerces society.

But I also, I was just picking up the other day from the plant materials center, just all the native plants. And if you want to become a seed producer what are the criteria? There's a lot of resources in NRCS on how to, pull these things off.

Mace Vaughn: Indeed. That's been the great thing about working with them is they've got a whole, the technical folks at NRCS are just top notch.

They're trying to do the best science best, understand how to successfully create habitat, get the materials together to support that habitat. You've got the plant material centers. You mentioned there are regional technology support centers, which is where I'm based. You're in Portland, Oregon supporting states across all across the, the west in my case, actually, and throughout the whole country, but also they're really good and they try to connect with, and certainly we help foster connections with land grant universities and other researchers to really try to bring the best information together.

So I, yeah, it's key [00:43:00] to go in and ask them the more people are going into these offices to ask about technical and financial support, the better, it really drives a lot of this.

Andony Melathopoulos: Thank you so much maze. That is, this is a lot of information I know, but I think it's laid out. You've I imagine you can talk about these things in your sleep.

You really live and breathe this world. We really appreciate you taking time to fill us in, but before you go, we have these three questions. I'm so curious what your answers are going to be.

Mace Vaughn: Okay. Which one do you want to start with?

Andony Melathopoulos: Before we start, let's take a quick break.

Just give our listeners a chance to brew some coffee and we'll come back. And here we go in a few minutes.

Mace Vaughn: That was great.

Andony Melathopoulos: Okay, we're back. So three questions. I'm so curious what your answer is going to be. So the first one, and I have to say is book recommendation, and I think that Tuesday Mercy's books, the one on pollinator habitat and the other one on beneficial pollinator habitat and beneficial insects, but also the 25.

Plants for no, it was a 2,500 hundred. There's so many [00:44:00] recommendations our guests have or is there she's books. What's your book recommendation as somebody from CRCs,

Mace Vaughn: right? I felt don't have a moral obligation to say, Hey, go check out our books.

Andony Melathopoulos: Fantastic though. There they're really what I think our guests always love about them is they're nicely laid out just in the same way as in this podcast.

If you want to build habitat, what are some of the key principles? It just the brass tax. It gets down to business, which I always appreciate in a book.

Mace Vaughn: Thanks for that. And that's, yeah, that's really, I really appreciate that. Thanks for letting me know. And I'm really glad that those stay useful.

But I did think I, I thought long and hard about this and particularly in light of this conversation and in light of the fact that. I mean let's face it. I feel like it's been a challenging time in the last year and a half as we're looking at all the issues facing us and what helps keep me, I dunno, a little bit rooted and inspired.

I'm going to go old school with my book recommendation, particularly in light of this conversation. I'm working on farm [00:45:00] land and range lands, and forest is believe it or not. I've been going back to, although Leopold really. Yeah, sand county Almanac round river. These books to me, they're not pollinator specific, but they get at this why they get it?

Why I do this work, they get it. Why I see potential in using the tools of working lands, being out there and thinking about the value in the role and the potential for habitat on farm land and on range land in and around 40. Thinking about, just it's been more for inspiration lately that, if we go back to the mid forties, all the Leopold was thinking about this, having some of the same concerns we have today.

And I worry what he would think if he saw what a lot of our, a lot of our farm and range look like. But the flip side is he might be pretty inspired by. You know what land owners can do and have been doing when they've set their mind to it. And just [00:46:00] being reminded about the blooming of Prairie's or, a classic quote from round river, that goes way back in time where Thinking about how, oh, shoot.

I'm trying to remember what it was exactly. The first rule of any tinkering and tinkering in this case being, any sort of managing or working with the land to try to conserve it is protecting and keeping all the pieces and for invertebrate conservation, for pollinator conservation, people often ask why is this being important or why is that butterfly important?

Why should I care? And I think even. 60 70 years ago. He so succinctly, set up the case for, Hey, we need to keep and protect, preserve and manage for all of these species because who knows what their ultimate value is. And maybe their value is purely aesthetic in the end. Maybe it's that they become, maybe they're a key driver of an ecosystem.

There is value in keeping them all. And so for me, when times have been [00:47:00] hard in thinking about the work that I do on these working lands, going back to sand county Almanac is, it's a little grounding and gives me some hope Yeah, I don't know. That's for me has been something that I've found helpful as and thought provoking that it's a little dated.

But there's still so much there at the heart of it. That is about love of the land and serving as a good friend and mentor of mine would call it serving as a land doctor. How do we. Provide healthcare services to the environment and some of the places where it needs it the most. I

Andony Melathopoulos: see his name brought up, in the last decade, a lot around adaptive management in some ways, the whole kind of principle of, having these, thinking about the whole system and trying to but also, the focus I love, the focus on working lands and knowing that, the old style of conservation of setting.

And which still of course is absolutely critical of setting some land aside and not touching it. It is a valuable piece of any conservation strategy.

Mace Vaughn: I agree. [00:48:00] We have to feed, we have to feed all of us. We have to take care of all of this. So can we do that in a way that's regenerative of the land, regenerative of diversity in the landscape and a good counterpart to all those natural and high-value protected areas that are so critically important to,

Andony Melathopoulos: My next question, I'm curious about for you because it's, what's your favorite tool for working on pollinators and I think of you as like the jackknife.

Pollinator, you have you got a can opener and you got the scissor, you got the corkscrew, like it's all in the may spawn kind of package. So curious if you have a one tool that you you could identify that you realize.

Mace Vaughn: I had a hard time making one. So my allowed to have a couple first and foremost, actually, let's go to the Jack knife, actually.

Having a Jack knife is very useful. If you want to break open stems, to be able to show people tunnel nesting bees. If you go out in the field and you've got some gloves and you grab some Himalayan Blackberry stems that have been cut down and you want to cut into a stem to show people that these in there [00:49:00] or.

If you've got elderberry and you can see some holes cut, dug out into the pith, little jackknife is useful for that, but it wasn't the first one that was on my mind, but it has its utility for me. I have to say my old John Rose entomology three foot net with a fine mesh bag. I am a big Fang fan of that.

That. That net is weighted so well, it is balanced perfectly. And for me to be able to grab a bee or a butterfly and a flower, put it into a little vile or carefully molded to show people w pollinators up close. For me when I first started, I got into all this as a beekeeper where all of a sudden, 30 years ago, I was looking at bees and flowers and seeing them up close and seeing how beautiful they were and seeing the diversity that was out there.

So a good net to be able to grab that puts it, put a little, be in a little clear plastic file, show people what it is we're trying to [00:50:00] protect for me. That's probably been my favorite tool. In that same vein and I lost this. You burn a number of years ago and need to get myself a new one close focusing.

Binoculars ended up doing the same thing, where again, that ability to in the field, look at these animals on the flower up close. To me just bring such joy, cause it's ah, here's this wildlife, this light this is not just flowers. It's not just a shrug with flowers or a wildflower. There is life on this.

And to be able to look at those closely without disturbing them. I see their behavior for me, that's been pretty fun. So close focus, binoculars, John Rose, entomology net. I think you can only get them from bio quick these days. Some plastic files, I don't know. I'm a big fan of being able to look at things up close and then.

I'm not a big collector, I'm not a collector. I'm just want to observe these things in nature. And it's pretty fun for me. So those are my picks.

Andony Melathopoulos: That leads so perfectly into the last question. So when you're tooting around there and catching things, and maybe you're using your [00:51:00] binoculars to see things, is there a pollinator species that you come across that, always brings joy to your heart?

I imagine they all do. This is all a tough question for, but is there anybody specifically you hoping to see.

Mace Vaughn: I suppose there's an element of having a hard time picking your favorite kid, but in this case, I think I do have an answer and. For me drum roll it's leafcutter bees. And I'll tell you why.

So leave could have bees as a tremendous variety out there. When you see them on the flower with that pollen packed on the underside of their abdomen, when you poke them a little bit, and then an admin goes up in the air, almost like a scorpion that got the big head in the big jaws and they are full.

They just they're a little bit pug Matius there. They got a little bit attitude. There's a complete, to totally personify this B, which I know from a scientific perspective is probably not ideal, but totally personifies the same. They have a lot of personality and. On top of that, I [00:52:00] find great joy and seeing evidence of their work.

So looking at the roses, the Snowberry, the red bud, the shoot the spy Rhea in my yard in nature. To go out and to see ovals and to see circles cut from the leaf margins. To me is the sign that even though I can't see the B, I knew that they are around and I know their presence. And I know they're out there.

And so what I like about is not only is the B itself full of this personality and also beautiful with the pollen on the underside of the abdomen and often the nice stripes and some of them with the fuzzy legs. There's all sorts of cool. So then as an individual. But to see that evidence of them in your garden or in nature.

I find that very satisfying and very cool.

Andony Melathopoulos: That's a fantastic answer. And I have to say probably is one of the favorite be general for me. As well but anyways, thank you so much for taking time out of your day. This is going to be a [00:53:00] podcast. I think for a lot of people who are interested in conservation are going to be re relistening to and relistening to, and we will have resources in the show notes, but I want to on behalf of all our listeners, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today.

Mace Vaughn: Oh, thanks Anthony. I really it's a real honor to be on. And this podcast is just a fantastic podcast, so thank you so much. Really appreciate being here.

Natural Resources Conservation Service has a range of programs to support the development of pollinator habitat in working lands. In this episode you’ll get an overview of NRCS programs, how landowners can access them and how, specifically, they can be used to improve habitat for pollinators.

Mace Vaughn helps direct the Xerces Society's Pollinator and Agricultural Biodiversity Program, where he oversees the work of 22 technical and support staff helping farmers, ranchers, conservation agencies, gardeners, roadside and rights of way managers get the technical information and training they need to implement 100s of 1000s of acres of pollinator habitat across the U.S. and abroad.

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