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Easement Program for Landowners and Ranchers in Osceola County

Dan Florida, USDA-NRCS

easementOsceola Soil and Water Conservation District has announced access to a United States Department of Agriculture Easement program for landowners and ranchers in Osceola County.

An agricultural conservation easement expert from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service provided an introduction to the program during a regular meeting of the OSWCD Board of Supervisors at Osceola Heritage Park.

The 2014 enacted Agricultural Conservation Easement Program offers financial payment to landowners in Osceola County and guarantees the reservation of grazing rights.

“Many ranchers and landowners want to preserve their family land heritage and protect their farms from residential development,” said Crenel Francis, USDA Easement Program Coordinator in Florida. “The NRCS pays the landowner for an easement on wetland ecosystems where livestock grazing is needed to maintain the long-term viability of the land.  The landowner ensures continued cattle raising at the same time keeping the farm away from residential home developers.”

In Florida, 226,884 acres of agricultural areas currently are protected for preservation, conservation, or wildlife habitat under conservation easements purchased by the USDA.

“The grazing rights option allows the landowner to maintain a cattle ranch in perpetuity while protecting the land from residential subdivisions and the loss through suburban growth,” said Francis.

NRCS has committed $45,705,977 to purchase 22 easements from Florida landowners in the last year alone. However, at the moment there are no contracts in Osceola County. NRCS contacted the OSWCD to assist in promoting Federal funding that’s available for conservation.

“Clean land, water, and air ensure we pass to the next generation a bright future,” said Larry Allen Schneck, Board of Supervisors Chairman. “Working to educate county residents on opportunities to achieve these sustainable goals improves the quality of life for everyone.”

The mission of the 5-member board of supervisors who are volunteers, elected to 4-year terms, is to provide the administration of programs to conserve soil and improve water quality and quantity on private lands in Osceola County.

Through a partnership with NRCS, the District is able to help people improve their natural resources and the environment by leveraging more than 70 years of experience in conservation planning and Federal funds to private landowners.

“Financial help is provided to farmers and ranchers who voluntarily address resource concerns such as soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, and threatened and endangered species management,” said Schneck. The local NRCS staff delivers technical assistance based on sound science and tailored to clients’ specific goals and objectives.”

Applications are available online at https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/fl/programs/easements/ acep/ and accepted on a continuous basis. However, funding selections are typically made once a year. Applications to fund agricultural easements in Florida are being accepted until February 16, 2018.  For wetland easements, contact Crenel Francis, (352) 338-9508, for questions and submissions. Contact Nina Bhattacharyya, (352) 338-9554, for questions and submissions about agricultural land easements.

The OSWCD Board of Supervisors meets in the Extension Services Office at Osceola Heritage Park. Meeting notices and information about the special district, and the work it’s doing, is available at www.osceolaswcd.org.