“Grasslands play an important role in environmental quality by providing biodiversity of plant and animal populations,” said Veneman. “These funds will help landowners protect grasslands to maintain viable ranching operations.”

The new funding included $1.3 million for Texas, $500,000 for Oklahoma and $300,000 for New Mexico. Previously, Texas had received $5.76 million; Oklahoma, $1.92 million; and New Mexico, $1.35 million.

The Farm Service Agency and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Forest Service, administer this voluntary program to help landowners and operators restore and protect grassland, rangeland, pastureland, shrubland and certain other lands and provides assistance for rehabilitating grasslands.

Authorized in the 2002 farm bill, these funds, combined with the $37.2 million released earlier this year, will allow USDA to enroll additional acreage in the program in fiscal 2003.

Landowners submitted more than 13,000 applications representing requests for more than $1.7 billion on approximately 9.5 million acres in the fiscal year, ending today.

Applications were rated using state specific evaluation criteria developed with input from the State Technical Committee. State Technical Committees advise USDA at the state level on implementation of conservation programs in the 2002 farm bill.

Committee membership includes representatives of federal, state and local government agencies; tribes; nongovernmental organizations; conservation districts; businesses; agricultural producers; and individuals interested in natural resource conservation with expertise in soil, water, wetland and wildlife management.

Additional information on GRP is at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/grp or from your local USDA service center, listed in the telephone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture, or on the Web at http://offices.usda.gov.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com