conservation

USDA Updates to Conservation Easements Strengthens Protection

Dan Conservation, Environment, USDA-NRCS

conservation

Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final rule for its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). The program enables agricultural producers and private landowners to protect farmlands, grasslands, and wetlands with conservation easements. The rule updates ACEP as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill and incorporates public comments made on an interim rule. NRCS received more than 570 comments on the ACEP interim rule, which was published on January 6, 2020.

ACEP is USDA’s premier conservation easement program, offering financial and technical assistance to help protect productive farm and ranch lands from conversion to other uses and to restore and protect the nation’s critical wetlands. It uses innovative conservation systems to support the restoration of wetland ecosystems and to protect working lands, helping to sequester carbon, trap sediment, and filter pollutants for clean water.

ACEP’s agricultural land easements (ALE) component assists state and local governments, non-governmental organizations, and American Indian tribes that have farmland or grassland protection programs purchase conservation easements from eligible landowners. This helps protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing the conversion of productive working farmland and grassland to non-agricultural uses or non-grassland uses.

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The wetland reserve easements (WRE) component helps landowners restore and protect wetlands in agricultural landscapes that provide benefits, including increased wildlife habitat, improved water quality, reduced impacts from flooding, groundwater recharge, and more outdoor recreation and educational opportunities. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect and enhance wetlands through the purchase of these easements.

NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded during enrollment periods that are set locally. For more information, visit your state website from nrcs.usda.gov, or contact your local NRCS field office.