USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service is updating its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to expedite appraisals, land surveys and certification of eligible entities.
The changes will tweak two ACEP categories: Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE). More than 5 million acres of land is enrolled in ACEP, USDA said.
“NRCS’ changes to (ACEP) will help us more efficiently and effectively work with producers and partners to protect lands in conservation easements,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby in an agency release. “We want our program to be more responsive to our customer needs so that ACEP continues to be a valuable and effective conservation tool that provides long-term protection of our nation’s farmland and wetland resources.”
NRCS increased the ALE appraisal threshold from $1 million to $3 million "to align program requirements with increased land values, enabling the agency to better target staff resources and speed up implementation,” NRCS said in a release.
NRCS also said it “plans to encourage procurement of land surveys earlier in the acquisition timeline, such as when an application has been tentatively selected for a WRE. These surveys help with locating land boundaries, which is needed to purchase and manage the easement.”
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The agency said it is also “increasing its use of partnerships to assist with acquiring the land surveys and has simplified the review process for producer-acquired land surveys” to accelerate the enrollment process.
NRCS currently works with American Indian tribes, state and local governments and nongovernmental organizations for certification of entities for ALE. But the agency also plans to launch a new certification effort “to proactively notify potentially eligible entities that they qualify for administrative flexibilities.” Those that qualify have “greater independence and less oversight” of their ALE easements, USDA said.
The improvements are the first step in what USDA said is an ongoing effort to streamline ACEP as well as other NRCS conservation initiatives to make participation in the programs easier. The Inflation Reduction Act included $1.4 billion in additional funding for ACEP over five years as part of the total $19.5 billion in additional conservation resources.
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