(1) From funds available in the Noxious Weed and Invasive Plant Species Assistance Fund, the director may administer a grant program to assist local control authorities and other weed management entities in the cost of implementing and maintaining noxious weed control programs and in addressing special weed control problems as provided in this section.
(2) The director shall receive applications by local control authorities and weed management entities for assistance under this subsection and, in consultation with the advisory committee created under section 2-965.01, award grants for any of the following eligible purposes:
(a) To conduct applied research to solve locally significant weed management problems;
(b) To demonstrate innovative control methods or land management practices which have the potential to reduce landowner costs to control noxious weeds or improve the effectiveness of noxious weed control;
(c) To encourage the formation of weed management entities;
(d) To respond to introductions or infestations of invasive plants that threaten or potentially threaten the productivity of cropland and rangeland over a wide area;
(e) To respond to introductions and infestations of invasive plant species that threaten or potentially threaten the productivity and biodiversity of wildlife and fishery habitats on public and private lands;
(f) To respond to special weed control problems involving weeds not included in the list of noxious weeds promulgated by rule and regulation of the director if the director has approved a petition to bring such weeds under the county control program;
(g) To conduct monitoring or surveillance activities to detect, map, or determine the distribution of invasive plant species and to determine susceptible locations for the introduction or spread of invasive plant species; and
(h) To conduct educational activities.
(3) The director shall select and prioritize applications for assistance under subsection (2) of this section based on the following considerations:
(a) The seriousness of the noxious weed or invasive plant problem or potential problem addressed by the project;
(b) The ability of the project to provide timely intervention to save current and future costs of control and eradication;
(c) The likelihood that the project will prevent or resolve the problem or increase knowledge about resolving similar problems in the future;
(d) The extent to which the project will leverage federal funds and other nonstate funds;
(e) The extent to which the applicant has made progress in addressing noxious weed or invasive plant problems;
(f) The extent to which the project will provide a comprehensive approach to the control or eradication of noxious weeds or invasive plant species as identified and listed by the Nebraska Invasive Species Council;
(g) The extent to which the project will reduce the total population or area of infestation of a noxious weed or invasive plant species as identified and listed by the Nebraska Invasive Species Council;
(h) The extent to which the project uses the principles of integrated vegetation management and sound science; and
(i) Such other factors that the director determines to be relevant.
(4) The director shall receive applications for grants under this subsection and shall award grants to recipients and programs eligible under this subsection. Priority shall be given to grant applicants whose proposed programs are consistent with vegetation management goals and priorities and plans and policies of the Riparian Vegetation Management Task Force established under section 2-970. Beginning in fiscal year 2016-17, it is the intent of the Legislature to appropriate one million dollars annually for the management of vegetation within the banks of a natural stream or within one hundred feet of the banks of a channel of any natural stream. Such funds shall only be used to pay for activities and equipment as part of vegetation management programs that have as their primary objective improving conveyance of streamflow in natural streams. Grants from funds appropriated as provided in this subsection shall be disbursed only to weed management entities, local weed control authorities, and natural resources districts whose territory includes river basins, with priority given to river basins that are the subject of an interstate compact or decree. The Game and Parks Commission shall assist grant recipients in implementing grant projects under this subsection, and interlocal agreements under the Interlocal Cooperation Act or the Joint Public Agency Act shall be utilized whenever possible in carrying out the grant projects.
(5) Nothing in this section shall be construed to relieve control authorities of their duties and responsibilities under the Noxious Weed Control Act or the duty of a person to control the spread of noxious weeds on lands owned and controlled by him or her.
(6) The Department of Agriculture may adopt and promulgate necessary rules and regulations to carry out this section.
(7) The director may annually apply for conservation funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture.