NSAC's Blog

New Data on National Wetland, Grassland, and Farmland Conservation Efforts

March 24, 2016

Wetland restoration project. Photo credit: USDA.

Wetland restoration project. Photo credit: USDA.

Few natural resources provide greater ecological benefits than wetlands and grasslands. Wetlands and grasslands filter water and reduce pollution, help prevent and mitigate the impacts of flooding, and provide critical wildlife habitat. Unfortunately, they are also some of our most threatened resources.

Farmers and landowners face pressures to convert wetlands and grasslands into croplands, as well as pressure to sell farmland to developers for housing and commercial development. Thanks to the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), private landowners, land trusts, and other entities are able to obtain federal support to preserve working farms and ranches, and to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands and grasslands through long-term easements.

The 2014 Farm Bill established ACEP as a competitive grants program designed to protect wetlands and agricultural land through permanent and long-term easements. The program has two components: a wetland easement component and an agricultural land easement component, which aims to protect farm and ranch land from development. The agricultural land easement component also includes a funding pool for Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance.

Until recently, the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) did not provide detailed information on the types of easements that were funded in each state. That information has now been made available to NSAC. In this post we examine the fiscal year (FY) 2015 ACEP enrollment on a state-by-state basis to determine the top states for wetland easements, farmland easements, and grassland easements.

2015 ACEP Data

In FY 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded a total of $243 million in financial and technical assistance for 347 wetland, grassland, and farmland conservation easements, spanning 115,233 acres across the country. This relatively low funding level is particularly problematic for wetland conservation efforts, which alone used to receive $410 million per year on average under ACEP’s predecessor program, the Wetlands Reserve Program.

Of the total financial assistance (FA) provided, 31 percent ($58.2 million) was obligated to agricultural land easements, and 69 percent ($129 million) was obligated to wetland easements. These figures do not include funding for technical assistance (TA). The funding division was very similar in FY 2014, and based primarily on demand.

Wetland easements made up 60 percent of ACEP projects and 40 percent of ACEP acres (46,000 acres) in FY 2015. The remaining 60 percent of ACEP acres (69,000 acres) were enrolled in Agricultural Land Easements (farmland easements and grassland easements). Similarly, wetland easements made up 61 percent of projects and 38 percent of acres in FY 2014.

State-By-State Breakdown

Top ten states in funding obligated for ACEP assistance (financial and technical assistance combined) for all types of easements in FY 2015:

State Dollars Obligated
Florida $36 million
Arkansas $23 million
California $20 million
Louisiana $15 million
Ohio $14 million
Iowa $14 million
Texas $13 million
Kentucky $13 million
South Dakota $8 million
Montana $7 million


The following charts list the top ten states under each of the following easement types: Wetland Easements, Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance, and Agricultural Land Easements.

Wetlands Easements – by number of projects

State Number of projects
Louisiana 38
Indiana 15
Pennsylvania 12
South Dakota 12
Missouri 11
North Dakota 11
Ohio 11
Kentucky 9
New Hampshire 9
Wisconsin 8


Wetlands Easements – by acres enrolled

State Acres Enrolled
Louisiana 9,023
Arkansas 6,795
Florida 5,015
California 4,974
Georgia 3,498
North Dakota 2,886
South Dakota 1,812
Kentucky 1,600
Iowa 1,123
Nebraska 1,025


Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance – by number of projects

State Number of Projects
Montana 3
Kansas 2
Nevada 2
Utah 2
California 1
Idaho 1
New Jersey 1
Oregon 1


Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance – by acres enrolled

State Name Acres Enrolled
Oregon 12,140
Montana 8,305
California 4,260
Utah 4,081
Nevada 2,785
Kansas 2,605
Idaho 945
New Jersey 374


Agricultural Land Easements – by number of projects

(includes Grasslands projects)

State Number of Projects
Kentucky 15
Connecticut 14
Ohio 12
Colorado 9
Michigan 7
Florida 6
Massachusetts 6
Montana 6
New Hampshire 6
South Carolina 6


Agricultural Land Easements – by acres enrolled

(includes Grasslands projects)

State Acres Enrolled
Oregon 16,172
California 10,674
Montana 9,595
Utah 4,081
Colorado 3,184
Nevada 2,785
Kansas 2,605
Wyoming 2,568
Florida 2,452
Ohio 2,355


The top ten states in terms of total funding obligations remained the same in FY 2015 as compared to FY 2014; each of those states (with the exception of Louisiana) also received an increase in assistance.

While most states had at least one ACEP project, eight states from across the country did not have any enrollments. Thirty states had at least one wetland easement project. Among those, ten states enrolled more than 1,000 acres. Thirty-one states had at least one agricultural land easement project, of which fourteen states enrolled more than 1,000 acres.

Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment

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