The threat of losing federal funding has hung over Nebraska's 12 Resource Conservation and Development councils for several years.
In the budget bill, signed in early April by President Obama, that threat became reality with the elimination nationwide of funding for the RC&D program that helped rural
Nebraska with conservation and economic development projects.
That doesn't mean the programs will close entirely, but federal dollars for coordinators, their office leases and furniture are gone, as well as any additional paid staff. The RC&D program was administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and, according to Craig Derickson, the NRCS state conservationist, most of the 12 coordinators, who are federal employees, have been transferred to positions within the agency, although at least one has retired.
The federal budget became effective at midnight April 9, and two days later, on Monday April 11, the RC&D coordinators were directed to report to new assignments in their local NRCS offices.
Gary Bergman, UNL Extension educator in Lancaster County and president of the statewide RC&D Council, says he believes most of the 12 programs will continue, using in-kind office space in other local agencies or businesses. "In a conference call after the federal funds were lost, the 12 local councils expressed interest in continuing on," he says.
That will be a challenge for some. Each of the local councils will have to rely on volunteers to continue on-going projects and many will have to seek grants, such as through USDA Rural Development, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development or other state and local agencies.
"They now are among other local entities looking for grants and other funding in a tough economy," Derickson says.
Bergman agrees. "It's too early to speculate on the future of theses councils in Nebraska because things are all up in the air," he says. "There are a lot of worthwhile programs the councils conducted in Nebraska, such as weed management programs, hazardous waste disposal, recycling, tourism promotion, and soil and water conservation."
Nebraska was one of the first states to have all counties incorporated in an RC&D. The first RC&D authorized in Nebraska was the Panhandle RC&D in 1970. The North Central RC&D is nearly as old. In July 2003, the Sandhills RC&D became the final one in the state.
RC&D projects have reduced soil erosion, improved water quality, enhanced wildlife habitat, created jobs and business and protect heritage sites, according to Bergman.