Lisa Coverdale, Connecticut’s state conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), announced that approximately $3.8 million in conservation funding has been allocated for Connecticut to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the state. Her announcement followed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s statement that $328 million is being invested nationally for this USDA initiative, which will benefit wildlife and promote outdoor recreation and related sectors of the economy.

“Through conservation easements, farmers will be better able to protect valuable agricultural lands from development, restore lands best suited for grazing, and return wetlands to their natural conditions,” Coverdale said. “Easements are making a dramatic impact for our food supply, rural communities and species habitat.”

Funding is provided through NRCS’ Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which was created in the 2014 farm bill. Approximately 11 projects statewide were selected to protect and restore 1,280 acres of prime farmland, grasslands, and wetlands.

In addition to protecting cropland and critical habitats, conservation strengthens outdoor recreation and helps boost the economy. According to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, annual conservation spending in the U.S. totals $38.8 billion, but it produces $93.2 billion of economic output throughout the economy — 2.4 times more than what is put in. This output takes the form of more than 660,500 jobs, $41.6 billion in income, and a $59.7 billion contribution to national gross domestic product.

Through ACEP, private or tribal landowners and eligible conservation partners working with landowners may request assistance from the USDA to protect and enhance agricultural land through an agricultural or wetland easement.

These easements deliver many long-term benefits. For example, this year’s projects will:

  • Improve water quality and wetland storage capacity in Long Island Sound
  • Promote the environmental and production benefits of improving the nation’s soil health
  • Provide and protect habitat for threatened, endangered, and at-risk species, including New England cottontail
  • 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

The new ACEP program consolidates three former NRCS easement programs — Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Grasslands Reserve Program, and Wetlands Reserve Program — into two components. One component protects farmlands and grasslands; the other protects and restores agricultural wetlands.

“The 2014 farm bill streamlined USDA’s major easement programs, 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,” Coverdale said.

To find out more about the ACEP program, contact your local USDA Service Center.