Through partnerships with private landowners, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the protection of more than 5 million acres of wetlands, grasslands, and prime farmland. Since last October, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has enrolled 110,000 acres in new conservation easements, bringing USDA to this conservation milestone.
NRCS has offered conservation easements through the Farm Bill for 28 years, through programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). It helps landowners, land trusts, and other entities protect, restore, and enhance wetlands, grasslands, and working farms and ranches through conservation easements.
ACEP’s Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) assist 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. These easements have been crucial to protecting rangelands and farmsteads from urban encroachment, ensuring the most productive lands remain working lands.
ACEP’s Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) component helps landowners restore and protect wetlands in agricultural landscapes that provide benefits, including increased wildlife habitat, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reducing flooding, recharging groundwater, protecting biological diversity, and providing opportunities for educational, scientific, and undeveloped recreational activities.
Easements have contributed to the restoration of the Southeast’s longleaf pine forests, and to the protection of animals like the greater sage grouse.
Farmers, ranchers and private foresters looking for more information should contact their local USDA Service Center.