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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 1, 2000

Governor Signs Agreement Expanding Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today announced that he has signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture adding 110,000 acres of flood-plain cropland in all or portions of 23 counties in northeast and central Illinois to the areas eligible to participate in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a major expansion of the state's efforts to encourage landowners to participate in the long term initiative to restore and protect the Illinois River.

"Landowners in the new areas who voluntarily protect their most erodible cropland are eligible for payments from the state. Working with these landowners, we can continue to preserve the economic and environmental health of the Illinois River watershed," the Governor said. "CREP is exceeding our expectations and succeeding in its goal to take thousands of flood-prone, environmentally sensitive areas out of production and restore them to valuable habitat."

Governor Ryan signed the agreement with the USDA Farm Service Agency adding lands along the upper portion of Sangamon River watershed, in central Illinois, and the Aux Sable Creek and Mazon River, in northeastern Illinois, to the CREP program.

The agreement makes lands in 11 new counties eligible for the program, including Champaign, Christian, DeWitt, Grundy, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Montgomery, Sangamon, Shelby and Piatt. The eligible area also has expanded in 12 more counties which already were involved in the program, including Ford, Iroquois, Kankakee, Kendall, LaSalle, Livingston, McLean, Mason, Menard, Morgan, Tazewell and Will.

"Ground will be taken out of production, the soil will remain on the river banks, farmers doing their part for the well-being of the Illinois River will be compensated, and the public will gain long-term benefits," the Governor said.

The Governor thanked U.S. Rep.Ray LaHood of Peoria, who was instrumental in organizing a meeting with state officials, including Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood, who is spearheading the Ryan Administration's Illinois River restoration efforts, U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin and USDA Secretary Dan Glickman.

"This announcement is possible because of the overwhelming success of our CREP program and I am hopeful we will be able to expand the overall acreage limit in the near future," LaHood said. "Through this new agreement, additional landowners can now join this effort to protect sensitive land and help in the restoration of our great river."

The program provides incentive payments and technical assistance to farm owners who plant grasses and trees and restore wetlands to reduce top soil loss, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat in the Illinois River basin. Farmers, who voluntarily agree to extend their USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts beyond 15 years, or agree to grant permanent conservation easements, receive bonus payments from the state.

Nearly 400,000 acres in 46 counties now are eligible to participate in the program. Sign-up for landowners in the new areas is currently underway. An estimated 15,000 of the newly-eligible acres are expected to be enrolled in the first year alone, further advancing the state's goal of reducing sediment runoff by 20 percent in the Illinois River basin.

"This important program continues to catch on and grow," Wood said. "The interest shown on the part of landowners in these areas demonstrates that CREP makes sense for the economy and the environment all along the Illinois River."

The initial focus of the 15-year, $459-million Illinois CREP initiative is enroll 100,000 acres of the most highly erodible land along the Illinois River and its tributaries. Eventually, the state hopes to enroll 232,000 acres.

"Adding the Sangamon and Upper Illinois River watershed to what is already the nation's most successful CREP area will offer substantial support to more people who are interested in cleaner water for Illinois," said Stephen J. Scates, Illinois Farm Service Agency Executive Director.

"I think it is very important that Illinois is adding these areas into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program," echoed USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Bill Gradle. "The addition will help local landowners make great strides in conservation that will protect and improve the quality of the Illinois River's natural resources, especially in these economically difficult times."

The agencies also work closely with county Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which enroll landowners into the state side of the program and hold the conservation easements.


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