WASHINGTON, Nov. 19, 2015 – USDA is making $350 million available to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the nation.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the funding is provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), created by the 2014 farm bill to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat, and encourage private owners to maintain land for farming and ranching. Through the voluntary sale of an easement, landowners limit future development to protect these key resources.
"The benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands cannot be overstated," Vilsack said in a release. "USDA is committed to preserving working agricultural lands to help protect the long-term viability of farming across the country as well as to restoring and protecting vital sensitive wetlands that provide important wildlife habitat and improve water quality."
ACEP's agricultural land easements not only protect the long-term viability of the nation's food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses, they also support environmental quality, wildlife habitat, historic preservation and protection of open spaces, USDA said. Native American Tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to purchase conservation easements.
Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully restore, enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce damage from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.
USDA provided several examples of how the program works. In north-central Iowa, ACEP funds have been used to add nearly 400 acres to an existing contiguous 600 acre wetland complex protecting the recently restored public Big Wall Lake. In Colorado, two land trusts in plan to use ACEP funds to enroll 1,805 acres to protect critical sage grouse habitat in Saguache County and in the Upper Colorado River Corridor Priority Landscape located in Grand County.
In in the 2014 and 2015 fiscal year, NRCS invested more than $600 million in ACEP funding to help landowners engage in voluntary conservation to provide long-term protection of an estimated 250,000 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through more than 750 new easements, USDA said.
To learn about ACEP and other technical and financial assistance available through NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or a local USDA Service Center.