The U.S. Department of Agriculture and private landowners have partnered to protect more than 5 million acres of wetlands, grasslands, and prime farmland — an area the size of New Jersey, according to an announcement from the USDA. Since October, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has enrolled 110,000 acres in new conservation easements, helping to reach this milestone.
The NRCS has offered conservation easements through the Farm Bill for 28 years, through programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which helps landowners, land trusts, and other entities protect, restore, and enhance wetlands, grasslands, and working farms and ranches through conservation easements. These programs benefit participants and the American public by creating cleaner air, water, and open spaces.
“USDA is committed to partnering with our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and private landowners to conserve our nation’s natural resources for future generations and deliver conservation and recreational benefits to rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We celebrate their efforts in helping us protect sensitive lands, create jobs, expand access to the outdoors, and help tackle climate change. We look forward to building on these partnerships.”
Wetland easements — totaling over 2.8 million acres nationwide — improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reducing flooding, recharging groundwater, protecting biological diversity, and providing opportunities for educational, scientific, and undeveloped recreational activities.
Wetland easements are also crucial to wildlife, and are credited for the recovery of the Louisiana black bear in 2019 and the Oregon chub in 2015. Whooping cranes rely on wetland easements on their cross-country treks and for raising young. Also, the wet meadows of sagebrush country are an oasis for wildlife like sage grouse.
Agricultural Land Easements
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. These easements have been crucial to protecting rangelands and farmsteads from urban encroachment, ensuring the most productive lands remain working lands.
Agricultural land easements, including grassland easements, total more than 1.9 million acres.
Carbon Sequestration and Easements
Easements also can be used to protect floodplains and forests, providing public benefits, including carbon sequestration, water quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat, and protection of open space. Easements have contributed to the restoration of the Southeast’s unique, but rare longleaf pine forests, and to the protection of animals like the Greater Sage-Grouse.
Working with private landowners to preserve and restore wetlands, grasslands, forests and farmlands is integral to USDA’s efforts to build resiliency and reduce the impacts of climate change across the nation. Easements protect sensitive lands from development in perpetuity, and landowners can partner with the NRCS to implement voluntary climate-smart management practices that maximize the amount of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in soils or plant biomass across these landscapes.
The USDA is engaged in a broad effort to combat the climate crisis and conserve and protect our nation’s lands, biodiversity and natural resources including soil, air and water. Through conservation practices and partnerships, the USDA aims to enhance economic growth and create new income streams for farmers, ranchers, producers and private foresters.
Enroll in Easements
Farmers, ranchers and private foresters looking to enroll farmland, grasslands, or wetlands in a conservation easement may submit proposals to the NRCS state office to acquire conservation easements on eligible land. To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, landowners should contact their local USDA Service Center.
The USDA offers a variety of conservation programs that provide help to plan and implement conservation practices on farms, ranches, or forests. Learn more about putting conservation to work through the Conservation at Work video series.