Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that $350 million has been designated to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands. The funding comes from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which was designed in the 2014 Farm Bill to protect water resources and wildlife habitat, as well as to encourage owners to maintain land for farming and ranching.
“The benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands cannot be overstated,” Vilsack said. “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. 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.
NRCS invested more than $600 million in ACEP funding in the past two fiscal years to help landowners with voluntary conservation. They estimate 250,000 acres of farmland, grassland and wetlands have gained long-term protection with this program.