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Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve working agricultural lands and wetlands and their related benefits.  Under the Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) component, NRCS helps Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations protect working important agricultural lands and limit non-agricultural uses of the land.  Under the Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE) component, NRCS works with agricultural landowners directly to restore, protect and enhance eligible wetlands.

USDA Announces $350 Million Available in Fiscal Year 2016 to Help States & Private Partners Protect and Restore Grasslands, Wetlands, and Working Agricultural Lands

The funding is provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), created by the 2014 Farm Bill to encourage private owners to maintain land for farming and ranching and to protect critical wetland resources for wildlife habitat and water quality. Through the voluntary sale of an easement, landowners limit future development to protect these key resources.

Applications may be submitted at any time through the year, but for consideration for this fiscal year’s funding complete applications must be submitted to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Office by the deadline of Friday, January 15, 2016.

What's New in ACEP?

ACEP is a new program that consolidates three former programs – the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program.

Benefits

Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) 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.

Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE) 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 (ALE)

NRCS provides financial assistance to eligible partners for purchasing Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) 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 Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have proven programs for the permanent protection of agricultural lands.  

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.  Matching funds and landowner eligibility must be documented at the time of application submission.

Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE)

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 survey costs, appraisal fees, title insurance, and closing costs.

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 projects.

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 Land Easements (ALE) 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 Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE) includes farmed or converted wetland that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored. NRCS will prioritize applications based on the feasibility of restoration and the easement's potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.

To enroll land through Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) , 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 Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE), 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 (ALE) , eligible entities submit a complete application packet to the NRCS State Office including the entity application and the parcel sheet; multiple parcels may be submitted under one entity application packet.  Entity eligibility, entity matching funds, and landowner eligibility must be documented at the time of application submission.

To enroll land through Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE), landowners may apply at any time at the local USDA Service Center.  Landowner eligibility must be documented at the time of application submission.

To Apply for Agricultural Land Easements (ALE):

To Apply for Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE):

More Information

To learn how to get started with NRCS, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/getstarted

Contacts

Shirley Nakamura
Assistant Director for Programs
Phone: (808) 541-2600 x 112
Email: Shirley.Nakamura@hi.usda.gov

Karen Dearlove 
Realty & Easement Specialist
Phone: (907) 283-8732 ext. 114
Email: Karen.Dearlove@ak.usda.gov