November 20, 2015
On Thursday, November 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of $350 million in fiscal year (FY) 2016 for long-term easements to protect wetlands, grasslands, and farm and ranch land. The funding is available through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which the 2014 Farm Bill created by combining the Wetland Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program, and Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program.
Application due dates vary by state, so visit your local NRCS office to determine your state’s deadline. However, no state’s deadline will be later than January 15, 2016, which is the national cutoff for enrollment in FY 2016.
You can visit the national ACEP bulletin for an application and award-making timeline as well as for the cooperative agreement for agricultural land easements and for grasslands of special environmental significance.
Easement proposals are ranked based on national and state-level ranking factors. If you are on your state’s NRCS State Technical Committee, or are otherwise interested in helping determine your state’s ranking factors, reach out to your NRCS office right away. States must upload a copy of their easement ranking criteria to their state website 30 days prior to the application cutoff date or by December 15, 2015, whichever is earlier.
To enroll land through agricultural land easements, eligible partners, such as land trusts and local agencies, should talk with their NRCS field office about developing an easement proposal. To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, landowners may apply directly at their NRCS field office at any time.
Wetlands and grasslands are some of our most threatened national land resources across the country due to pressure to convert to cropland. Similarly, productive farmland is vulnerable to conversion for housing and commercial development. Through ACEP, private landowners, land trusts, and other entities are able to obtain federal support in order to preserve working farms and ranches and restore, protect, and enhance wetlands and grasslands through permanent and long-term easements.
According to yesterday’s press release by NRCS, “in FY 2014 and FY 2015, NRCS invested more than $600 million in ACEP funding to help landowners engage in voluntary conservation to provide long-term protection of an estimated 250,000 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through more than 750 new easements.”
Stay tuned for an in-depth analysis of the FY 2015 enrollment in the coming weeks.