March 31, 2015
On Tuesday, March 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that $322 million is now available for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) for fiscal year (FY) 2015. The deadline for applications for enrollment in FY 2015 is May 15, 2015.
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.
The 2014 Farm Bill created ACEP by combining the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and Farm and Ranch land Program (FRPP). The Farm Bill divides ACEP into two components: a wetland easement component, which largely mirrors the former WRP, and an agricultural land easement component, which is intended to retain the purposes and functionality of GRP and FRPP.
In FY 2014, NRCS used $328 million in ACEP funding to enroll 145,000 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through 485 new easements. Of the 145,00 total acres, nearly 90,000 acres were enrolled through 190 agricultural land easements, while 55,000 acres were enrolled through 295 wetland easements.
Of total ACEP funding for 2014, 68 percent ($223 million) went to wetland easement projects, while 32 percent ($105 million) went to agricultural land easement projects.In the past, roughly 75 percent of NRCS easement funding went to wetland easements.
NRCS intends to maintain this breakdown under ACEP. NRCS Chief Jason Weller estimated today that roughly 70 percent of funding will go toward wetland easements in FY 2015, while the acreage breakdown between wetland and agricultural land easements will be close to 50:50.
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.
Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment