As drought lingers over the majority of Eastern Oregon, federal funding is now available to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is allocating $2.5 million to producers in counties where Gov. Kate Brown has already declared a drought emergency, with the money to go toward enhancing cropland, rangeland and forestry conservation practices.

Those counties include: Umatilla, Morrow, Grant, Baker, Wheeler, Wasco, Crook, Harney, Malheur, Lake, Klamath, Deschutes, Jackson, Josephine and Lane. Additional counties could qualify if they also receive a drought declaration from the Governor’s Office.

Funding comes from the Natural Resource Conservation Service through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program, working with private landowners to make soils healthier and more drought-resilient. The deadline to apply for assistance is June 26.

“This funding will help Oregonians in the most drought-stricken areas of the state to mitigate the impacts of drought on cropland, rangeland and forestland,” said state conservationist Ron Alvarado. “This funding amplifies the work NRCS continues to do every day to support water conservation, soil health and productivity on Oregon’s working agricultural lands and forest lands.”

NRCS will prioritize applications coming from counties with the highest drought status according to the USDA Drought Monitor, which is updated regularly on Thursdays. The most recent drought monitor shows nearly all of northeast Oregon in severe drought and near all of southeast Oregon in extreme drought.

For farmers, the NRCS will assist with planting cover crops that can help guard against soil erosion, while increasing organic matter and allowing for better water filtration in fields. On ranches, funds will help develop grazing management plans and install emergency watering facilities for livestock.

Private foresters can use the money to help with wildfire prevention measures on their property, such as creating fuel breaks. NRCS has partnered with the Oregon Department of Forestry to focus funding on areas of high risk for wildfire.

The $2.5 million earmarked for Oregon is part of a larger pot of $21 million from the NRCS in seven other states. California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas also received funding.

Landowners should submit applications to their local USDA Service Center. Centers for Umatilla and Morrow counties are located in Pendleton at 1 S.W. Nye Ave., Ste. 130, and in Heppner at 430 Linden Way.

For more information, call the centers at 541-278-8049 or 541-676-5021.

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Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

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