The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Connecticut is making available up to $3.1 million in financial and technical assistance through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Nationwide, the agency is making $332 million in financial and technical assistance available nationwide to help productive farm and ranch lands remain in agriculture and to protect the nation’s critical wetlands and grasslands.
“NRCS helps farmers, ranchers, private forest landowners, and partners achieve their conservation goals using our technical expertise, Farm Bill funding, and sound conservation planning,” Lisa Coverdale, State Conservationist, said. “Conservation easements are an important tool to help these landowners and partners voluntarily provide long-term protection of our nation’s farmland, ranchland, wetlands, and grasslands for future generations.”
The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives. NRCS easement programs have been a critical tool in recent years for advancing landscape-scale private lands conservation.
In FY 2014, NRCS in Connecticut used $3.7 million in ACEP funding to enroll an estimated 980 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through 11 new easements, while nationally, the agency enrolled an estimated 145,000 acres to be protected through 485 easements.
ACEP’s agricultural land easements not only protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses, but also support environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat, and protection of open spaces. American Indian tribes, state and local governments, and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to purchase conservation easements. A key change under the new agricultural land easement component is the new grasslands of special environmental significance that will protect high-quality grasslands under threat of conversion to cropping, urban development, and other non-grazing uses.
Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater, and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands through the purchase of these easements. Eligible landowners may choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement; tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.
ACEP applications may be submitted to NRCS any time; however, applications for the current funding round must be submitted by May 15.