USDA Unveils Efforts to Streamline Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

Dan Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE), Agricultural Land Easements (ALE), Conservation, Environment, USDA-NRCS


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is streamlining its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) to ultimately better help agricultural producers and private landowners conserve wetlands, productive farmlands and at-risk grasslands. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is rolling out several improvements to the program, which has more than 5 million acres of land enrolled, in response to feedback from producers, landowners and conservation partners.

Specifically, NRCS is updating its processes around appraisals, land surveys, as well as certifying eligible entities who help NRCS and producers enroll land into easements. These changes are for  Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) as well as Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE).


Key program changes include:

  • Appraisals for ALE: The threshold for national review of ALE appraisals is now $3 million, raised from $1 million. NRCS raised the threshold to align program requirements with increased land values, enabling the agency to better target staff resources and speed up implementation. Appraisals help ensure cost-effective and appropriate use of federal funds that are contributed to a conservation partner for their purchase of the ALE from the farmer or rancher.
  • Land Surveys for WRE: NRCS plans to encourage procurement of land surveys earlier in the acquisition timeline, such as when an application has been tentatively selected for a WRE. These surveys help with locating land boundaries, which is needed to purchase and manage the easement. NRCS is also increasing its use of partnerships to assist with acquiring the land surveys and has simplified the review process for producer-acquired land surveys. This will speed up the time it takes producers and landowners to enroll.
  • Certification of Entities for ALE: For ALE, NRCS works with eligible entities, such as American Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations, to conserve prime farmland and at-risk grasslands. NRCS is working to expand the number of entities by launching a certification initiative to proactively notify potentially eligible entities that they qualify for administrative flexibilities. Certified entities have greater independence and less oversight in their purchase of easements funded under ALE.

ACEP is administered by NRCS and aids landowners and eligible entities with conserving, restoring, and protecting wetlands, productive agricultural lands, and grasslands at risk to conversion to non-grassland uses. Healthy wetlands, grasslands and farmlands sequester carbon and provide many other natural resource benefits.

NRCS accepts producer applications for its conservation programs, including ACEP, year-round. Producers interested in easements should contact their local USDA Service Center.