Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today the Department of Agriculture is investing $328 million to help private landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands. The 2014 Farm Bill created the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, or ACEP, to protect critical wetlands and keep lands in farming and ranching for the future.
“Conservation easements help farmers and ranchers protect valuable agricultural lands from development while enhancing lands best suited for grazing and wetlands to their natural conditions,” Nevada NRCS State Conservationist Bruce Petersen said. “These easements are making a dramatic and positive impact for food supply, rural communities, and species habitat.”
The program’s first signup netted 1,450 applications requesting more than $546 million in funding to restore and protect more than 345,000 acres through easements. Out of those applications, about 380 of the top easement projects were selected to protect and restore 32,000 acres of prime farmland, 45,000 acres of grasslands and 52,000 acres of wetlands.
About $5.37 million is being invested this year in Nevada through ACEP.
Through ACEP, private or tribal landowners and eligible conservation partners working with landowners can request assistance from USDA to protect and enhance agricultural land through an agricultural or wetland easement.
These easements deliver many benefits over the long term, for example, this year’s projects will:
- Improve water quality and wetland storage capacity in the California Bay Delta region as well as reduce flooding along the Mississippi and Red rivers;
- Provide and protect habitat for threatened, endangered and at-risk species including sage grouse, bog turtles, Florida panthers, Louisiana black bear, and whooping cranes to recover populations and reduce regulatory burdens; and
- Protect prime agricultural land under high risk of development in urban areas to help secure the nation’s food supply and jobs in the agricultural sector.
ACEP consolidates three former NRCS easement programs – Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program – into two components – one that protects farmlands and grasslands and another that protects and restores agricultural wetlands.
“The 2014 Farm Bill streamlined USDA’s major easement programs into one, putting the important benefits of protecting farmlands, grasslands and wetlands all under one roof to make it as easy as possible for landowners to participate,” Petersen said.