Easton, MD, November 11, 2023 – Restore the Earth Foundation, Inc. (REF) is pleased to announce that it was awarded a $25 million grant from the USDA Nature Resource Conservation (NRCS), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).

REF brings private partner investment to match and amplify this NRCS public funding for a total of $55 million. This collaborative private/public partnership and investment will go towards managing and protecting critical watersheds and restoring degraded lands to native forests in Arkansas.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is on the ground in every region in the U.S., working with conservation partners. These partners consist of private industry, non-government organizations, Native tribes, state and local governments, soil and water conservation districts, and universities.  The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) is a standalone program that offers $330 million yearly to support locally-driven partnerships that address climate change, improve water quality, combat drought, enhance soil health, support wildlife habitat, and protect agricultural viability in the United States.  Each year, 85 projects nationwide are selected to receive this money.

REF focused on applying to this program to pilot its private/public investment model to reforest 1 million acres in the Mississippi River Basin, the third-largest watershed on Earth. The funds secured from the $25 million award will go towards the acquisition of USDA NRCS held and managed conservation easements to restore marginal cropland to its previous forested condition in Arkansas. The project has 5 objectives:

  1. Demonstrate that private sector investments in Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) can be profitable;
  2. Increase the number of acres of marginal lands in Arkansas restored to forest vegetation and protected via permanent easements;
  3. Improve environmental, social and economic conditions for local producers and communities;
  4. Document and account for the impacts and co-benefits resulting from reforestation;
  5. A portion of revenues  from the sale of co-benefits, to be shared with participating producers and to fund future projects.

As a result of this reforestation, NRCS will address climate change and achieve significant environmental, social, and economic co-benefits beyond their regular funding.  High-yielding croplands will NOT be taken out of production.

In addition to the restoration of the forest, the newly planted native trees will generate 1,500,000 mt (CO2e) of carbon emission reductions.  REF will recapture funds through revenues generated by selling the greenhouse gas reductions/carbon offsets.  In addition to a payment for the easements and reforested land, participating landowners will receive a share of these revenues. The balance will be reinvested by REF into additional projects to scale the program.

To accomplish this, REF will develop an easement template with NRCS to emphasize water quality and acknowledge carbon sequestration while amplifying wildlife and biodiversity benefits.  The project envisions accelerating the easement process and resources, providing more landowner participation to restore the land to the previous native forested condition.  NRCS will hold and manage the easements to assure the integrity, permanence, and long-term benefits of the investment.

REF’s private investment partners offer value added contributions to amplify the impact of the RCPP funding.  This project increases the effective integration of reforestation on working landscapes and offers impactful and measurable environmental, social and economic outcomes.

To learn more about this project or if you have an Arkansas Landowner interested in participating in this project, please contact Taylor Marshall, tam@restoretheearth.org

Click here to read the NRCS USDA Press release.