NRCS: Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

Funding Sources: Federal Agency
Elligible Entities: Individual / General Public
Deadline: April 24, 2017
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USDA Seeks Partner Proposals to Protect and Restore Critical Wetlands

NRCS is investing $15 million in technical and financial assistance available to help eligible conservation partners leverage local resources to voluntarily protect, restore and enhance critical wetlands on agricultural lands. The funding is provided through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership, part of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, a Farm Bill conservation program. Proposals are due to NRCS state offices by April 24, 2017.

Benefits

Agricultural Land Easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Land protected by agricultural land easements provides additional public benefits, including environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.

Wetland Reserve Easements provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce flooding, recharge groundwater, protect biological diversity and provide opportunities for educational, scientific and limited recreational activities.

Agricultural Land Easements

NRCS provides financial assistance to eligible partners for purchasing Agricultural Land Easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation values of eligible land. In the case of working farms, the program helps farmers and ranchers keep their land in agriculture. The program also protects grazing uses and related conservation values by conserving grassland, including rangeland, pastureland and shrubland. Eligible partners include American Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland, rangelan d or grassland protection programs.

Under the Agricultural Land component, NRCS may contribute up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement. Where NRCS determines that grasslands of special environmental significance will be protected, NRCS may contribute up to 75 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement

Wetland Reserve Easements

NRCS also provides technical and financial assistance directly to private landowners and Indian tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands through the purchase of a wetland reserve easement. For acreage owned by an Indian tribe, there is an additional enrollment option of a 30-year contract.

Through the wetland reserve enrollment options, NRCS may enroll eligible land through:

Permanent Easements – Permanent easements are conservation easements in perpetuity. NRCS pays 100 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 75 to 100 percent of the restoration costs.

30-year Easements – 30-year easements expire after 30 years. Under 30-year easements, NRCS pays 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.

Term Easements – Term easements are easements that are for the maximum duration allowed under applicable State laws. NRCS pays 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the term easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.

30-year Contracts – 30-year contracts are only available to enroll acreage owned by Indian tribes, and program payment rates are commensurate with 30-year easements.

For wetland reserve easements, NRCS pays all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office, including recording fees, charges for abstracts, survey and appraisal fees, and title insurance.

Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership – The 2014 Farm Bill replaced the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program with the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership as an enrollment option under ACEP – WRE. WREP continues to be a voluntary program through which NRCS signs agreements with eligible partners to leverage resources to carry out high priority wetland protection, restoration and enhancement and to improve wildlife habitat.

Partner benefits through WREP agreements include:

  • Wetland restoration and protection in critical areas
  • Ability to cost-share restoration or enhancement beyond NRCS requirements through leveraging
  • Able to participate in the management or monitoring of selected project locations
  • Ability to use innovative restoration methods and practices

Eligibility

Land eligible for agricultural easements includes cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland and nonindustrial private forest land. NRCS will prioritize applications that protect agricultural uses and related conservation values of the land and those that maximize the protection of contiguous acres devoted to agricultural use.

Land eligible for wetland reserve easements includes farmed or converted wetland that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored. NRCS will prioritize applications based the easement’s potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.

To enroll land through agricultural land easements, NRCS enters into cooperative agreements with eligible partners. Each easement is required to have an agricultural land easement plan that promotes the long-term viability of the land.

To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, NRCS enters into purchase agreements with eligible private landowners or Indian tribes that include the right for NRCS to develop and implement a wetland reserve restoration easement plan. This plan restores, protects, and enhances the wetland’s functions and values.

How to Apply

To enroll land through agricultural land easements, eligible partners may submit proposals to the NRCS state office to acquire conservation easements on eligible land.

To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, landowners may apply at any time at the local USDA Service Center.

More Information

ACEP Results Data For FY 2014

ACEP results data for 2014 are available in HTML and CSV.

ACEP Program Manual ( read online HTML | generate 3.8MB printer-friendly PDF )

FY 2015 ACEP – ALE Minimum Deed Terms (PDF, 399KB)

FY 2014 ACEP Allocations to States  ( HTML | PDF )