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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 14, 2001

Governor Signs Agreement Expanding Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Agreement
Provides more Federal Funding for Illinois River Watershed Restoration and Protection

SPRINGFIELD -- Governor George H. Ryan today signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanding the state's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to the entire Illinois River watershed, providing for an additional 32,000 acres of land to be enrolled in the successful river basin protection and restoration initiative.

"As part of my Illinois Rivers 2020 initiative, this agreement allows us to encourage even more landowners along the Illinois River and its tributaries to voluntarily enroll their most erodible, least productive land in a program that will provide long-term protection for this critically important watershed," Ryan said. "The Illinois River CREP is the most successful river restoration effort in the country, helping to reduce sediment load and to preserve the environmental and economic health of the river system."

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

As part of the 15-year, $459 million Illinois River CREP announced in 1998, Illinois and the USDA focused initially on 100,000 acres of the most erodible land in 29 counties along the middle Illinois River, the Peoria Lake section of the river, and tributaries including the Lower Fox, Kankakee, Vermillion, Spoon, Mackinaw, and Lower Sangamon. In 1999, the LaMoine River watershed in west-central Illinois was added to the program, while CREP was expanded again in 2000 to add eligible lands in the upper portion of the Sangamon River in central Illinois, as well as the watersheds of Aux Sable Creek and the Mazon River in northeastern Illinois.

The agreement signed today expands the Illinois CREP to the entire Illinois River watershed, including lands in 46 counties, and allows enrolling another 32,000 acres in the program, resulting in a USDA commitment $78 million in federal funding to the Illinois program during the next 15 years.

"With commitments from landowners of more than 88,000 acres in CREP, we are fast approaching the 100,000-acre cap," said Ryan. "Under this agreement, we can proceed to sign-up more farmers and landowners anxious to participate, to further their legacies as stewards of the land, and provide further protection to the rivers and streams in the Illinois basin."

"This agreement will help farmers in Illinois continue to do the wonderful job they always do in preserving and enhancing the environment," said Bill Graff, State Executive Director for the USDA-Farm Service Agency. "The economic benefits of this program show that Illinois' agriculture economy will be improved by the signing of this agreement."

"Illinois farmers take their role as conservationists quite seriously as the success of the CREP program here shows," said Illinois Agriculture Director Joe Hampton. "This program expansion will help our farmers and landowners continue to do the right thing by protecting not only wildlife habitat, but also our water and the valuable topsoil that makes us world leaders in agricultural production."

"Thanks to Governor Ryan's leadership on Illinois Rivers 2020 and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, we are succeeding in reducing sedimentation and improving water quality while providing a boon to wildlife," said Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Brent Manning. "The ground cover of grasses and trees that hold the soil in place create thousands of acres of terrific habitat for birds, deer and upland wildlife."

"Governor Ryan's persistent and continuous support of soil and water conservation and his abiding efforts to restore Illinois' natural habitats will keep our state at the forefront of conservation for years to come," said the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts Executive Director Christopher Stone. "Illinois' future generations stand to substantially benefit from Governor George Ryan's commitment to water quality, natural resources and the environment."


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