The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is currently accepting applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). ACEP offers two conservation easement options: Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE).
While the new 2018 Farm Bill made some changes in the popular conservation easement programs, these will not be incorporated until 2020, allowing ACEP to proceed this fiscal year using regulations in place since 2014.
“NRCS is pleased to provide voluntary easement options in our conservation portfolio to agricultural producers,” said Carlos Suarez, NRCS state conservationist in California. “These easement opportunities provide a means to keep working land in production, protect the ecological benefits of wetlands and provide open space for the citizens and natural resources of our beautiful state.”
ALE funds are provided to eligible entities, such as land trusts, non-governmental organizations, and local or state farmland protection agencies, to cost-share the purchase of conservation easements that permanently protect farming and ranching on privately owned lands. Voluntary agricultural easements prevent productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses and maximize protection of prime soils devoted to food and fiber production. NRCS encourages landowners to work with local entities with demonstrated records of establishing easements on farmland. NRCS field offices can help facilitate these connections.
WRE assists farmers, ranchers and other private landowners with restoring and protecting degraded wetlands on marginal, flood-prone cropland and rangeland. Enrollment options include permanent and 30-year easements. Tribal landowners may enroll in 30-year contracts. WRE also includes a Grazing Reserve Rights option to enroll grazed rangeland and pasture under an approved management plan. The grazing rights option is available in three geographic areas: coastal pastures and wetlands of the north coast, California vernal pools, and intermountain wetlands of eastern California. Interested landowners should contact their local NRCS field office to apply for the program.
ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS. However, applications for current funding must be submitted on or before April 12, 2019.
As with all NRCS conservation easements, the landowner retains the title to the land, and the right to control access and recreational use. The land remains on the tax rolls. Learn more about ACEP by visiting their website.