SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced the release of $5 million for conservation projects on floodplain and other highly erodible land as part of the Illinois River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
“I’m releasing these funds today, so that farmers who have been waiting to sign up for this program will be able to do so,” the Governor said. “This is the first time the state has increased landowner participation in the program since November 2001. Restoring the Illinois River is a priority of my administration. In my fiscal 2005 budget, I have included another $10 million in funding so additional progress can be made on this important effort.”
CREP is a federal-state conservation program that provides financial incentives 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 along the Illinois River and its tributaries. 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.
“This program is a good investment for the state of Illinois. For every dollar the state invests to restore these resources, the federal government pitches in four more,” the Governor said. “My commitment to the program this year and next means another 27,500 acres will be protected.”
The release of funds for CREP comes on the heels of the launch of the innovative “Mud- to-Parks” project, in which 105,000 tons of sediment is being dredged from Peoria Lake, loaded onto barges and shipped 163 miles up the Illinois River to Chicago’s old U.S. Steel South Works facility, where it is being unloaded and is transforming an industrial slag field into a green park.
“CREP is a creative way to restore environmentally sensitive agricultural acreage and to secure permanent conservation easements in the Illinois River basin,” said Department of Natural Resources Director Joel Brunsvold, who noted that Illinois leads the nation in the number of acres currently enrolled at 110,000 in the federal program, and the most acres permanently protected, 90 percent of the 67,110 acres enrolled in the state portion of the program.
"Illinois consistently ranks at the top in the nation as a producer of corn and soybeans," Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. "Farmers couldn’t maintain that level of production if they didn't take care of their land and if there weren’t conservation programs like CREP in place. These grants not only help the agriculture industry, but also help sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts as well. It’s a win-win situation.”
An estimated 7,500 acres are eligible in this new enrollment. Landowners eligible to enroll are those who already are participating in the federal portion of the program. A limited enrollment period for the State CREP program for federally enrolled CREP landowners that enrolled under CRP Sign-ups 23 and 24 is being offered beginning April 30, 2004 at 8:30 a.m. until May 7, 2004 at 5:00 p.m.