INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program drew an overwhelming response from partners across the nation.

Of the almost 600 pre-proposals submitted in July, about 230 have been invited to continue the process by submitting full proposals by Oct. 2.

“This program provides an entirely new approach to conservation at this scale,” said Jane Hardisty, Indiana state conservationist. “RCPP offers a unique opportunity to harness innovation and welcome new partners into the conservation mission. The program puts our partners in the driver’s seat, allowing them to find creative solutions to the conservation issues in their areas.”

The partnership provides a way for private companies, tribes, local communities and non-government partners to collaborate and invest in cleaner water and air, healthier soil and enhanced wildlife habitat. It will enable the NRCS to focus on critical conservation areas and leverage private sector funding to maximize conservation investments.

Applicants requested more than six times the $394 million in available funding.

By mid-July, partners had submitted pre-proposals for rigorous evaluation, including 201 for projects related to eight previously-designated critical conservation areas, 60 for multi-state and national-level projects, and 278 for state-level projects.

Nine proposals were received for Indiana funding. Of those, two applicants were selected to proceed with a full proposal.

Five additional proposals that include work in Indiana were selected — two in critical conservation areas and three in the multi-state and national-level category.

“The number of pre-proposals from Indiana and across the nation show a like-minded determination to improve the quality of our lands and their ecosystems,” Hardisty said. “As the program grows, we expect to see Indiana’s forward-thinking and proposal counts grow with it.”

“Local decision making is empowered through RCPP, bringing together partners to design conservation projects tailored to our needs in Indiana,” added Jerry Roach, assistant state conservationist for programs. “The proposals submitted in Indiana demonstrate innovation, encourage broad partnerships and address Indiana’s critical issues of water quality, soil quality and at-risk habitat.”