USDA-NRCS and Partners in Georgia Announce Sign-Up for Conservation Easements through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program Projects
NRCS in Georgia announces a ranking date for the conservation easement portions of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. Interested producers must apply by December 2, 2022, for their application to be included in this batch of program funding.
Release No.: 03.23
ATHENS, GA, October 31, 2022 — State Conservationist Terrance O. Rudolph, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and partner groups, announced today a sign-up for four regionally-focused conservation projects funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Each project has unique objectives and boundaries discussed below, however the ranking date for all eligible producers in these project areas to apply is December 2, 2022. This sign-up is different from previously announced RCPP sign-ups as it is specifically for the conservation easement activities respective to each RCPP project.
“Through this RCPP conservation easement sign-up, we continue to work with our partners to implement cutting edge solutions to complex conservation challenges,” said Rudolph. “We encourage all customers who want to be a part of the long-term solution to making their communities more resilient to climate change, improving wildlife habitat, and ensuring military readiness, to start these conversations today!”
RCPP in The Farm Bill
First authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP has leveraged partner contributions of more than $1 for every $1 invested by USDA, resulting in nearly $3 billion collectively invested in natural resource conservation on private lands. Over that time, RCPP has made 589 awards involving over 3,000 partner organizations. Currently there are 401 active projects, with at least one active project in every state and area. Successful RCPP projects provide innovative conservation solutions, leverage partner contributions, and offer impactful and measurable outcomes. RCPP Projects may have a combination of up to five conservation activities. This announcement is specific to RCPP conservation easements.
Different Types of RCPP Conservation Easements
An RCPP conservation easement may be either United States-held (U.S.-held) or Entity-held easement. Both types are available for a wider variety of land uses and conservation purposes then other USDA-NRCS easement programs. These different land types of eligibility are driven by the conservation benefits and resource concerns identified in the RCPP project rather than being limited to the land eligibility requirements of the covered programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The application, ranking, easement acquisition processes, and contracting for RCPP easements are like other NRCS easement programs.
- RCPP U.S.-held conservation easements: RCPP U.S.-held conservation easements are offered through producer contracts with eligible landowners of eligible lands. U.S.-held easements are in general, permanent easements.
- RCPP Entity-held conservation easements: RCPP awards for entity-held easement will be offered through supplemental agreements and require collaboration between NRCS, a qualified entity, and an eligible landowner. Either a qualified lead partner or a qualified third-party entity that meets the requirements of 7 CFR Section 1468.3 may apply to be the holder of an RCPP entity-held easement.
Georgia RCPP Projects:
Project ID# 1960 - The Red Hills to the Coast, Connecting Land
The Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy is the lead partner for this project and have a vision for the St. Marks River and Aucilla River watersheds as a pair of adjoining watersheds that contain conserved, well-managed natural habitats that allow for an increase in populations for listed wildlife species, improved water quality for residents, and economic benefits to surrounding communities. A diverse set of partners intends to enroll at least 5,000 acres in conservation easements and provide technical and financial assistance covering 15,000 acres.
Type of easement enrollment offered: entity-held easement; entity holding easement: Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.
RCPP primary easement purposes:
- Protection of relatively natural aquatic and upland habitats. Wetlands and water resource protection will be the primary focus of our entity-held easements.
- Protection of associated working land forests and agricultural areas to ensure long-term viability of local rural economies and support fiber and food production.
- Protection of open space and scenic resources for the public consistent with governmental policies.
- Protection and potential restoration of relatively natural habitats for a broad spectrum of fish and wildlife species.
- Oftentimes, these lands also have a working lands component and that will be accounted for within the easements.
The focus area in GA: Brooks, Thomas, and Grady counties within the St. Marks River and Aucilla River watersheds only.
Partnership Programs Coordinator
Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy
(850) 893-4153 ext. 250
Project ID# 2061 - The Georgia Sentinel Landscape
The Georgia Conservancy, Inc. is the lead partner for this project, and along with their partners plan to protect up to 1,500 acres with conservation easements and expand prescribed fire efforts to improve management of the longleaf pine ecosystem. The project complements Department of Defense Sentinel Landscape activities and supports the goals of Georgia’s Gopher Tortoise Initiative.
Type of easement enrollment offered: entity-held easement; entity holding easement: Georgia-Alabama Land Trust.
RCPP primary easement purposes:
- These easements will seek to protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses.
- This protection of productive working lands also reduces the conversion of these existing agricultural lands with permeable surfaces to other uses that would increase impermeable surfaces within multiple watersheds.
- These protected lands will provide an added public benefit of protection of the national defense mission and the traditional military community within the local area. These parcels will be located within the Compatible Use Buffer of Fort Stewart, Georgia which is one of nine installations located within the Georgia Sentinel Landscape. One of the four stated goals of the Georgia Sentinel Landscape is protection of agricultural and forested lands within the buffer areas of military installations within the Georgia Sentinel Landscape.
- Targeted easement holders will be agricultural producers located within a Department of Defense- Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) boundary (also called a Compatible Use Buffer) within the Georgia Sentinel Landscape. These lands are formally designated by the Department of Defense and are the only locations where applicable Department of Defense matching funds are available. As such, applicants who are not physically located within a REPI boundary are not eligible for funding by the Department of Defense and will not be eligible for this project.
The focus area in GA: Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham, Effingham, Evans, Liberty, Long, Tattnall counties only.
Land Stewardship Coordinator
The Georgia Conservancy
Project ID# 2574 - Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative
The US Endowment for Forestry and Communities is the lead partner for this project, and along with their partners will offer conservation easements and habitat restoration and maintenance activities on private forest land to protect Gopher Tortoise populations living in longleaf pine ecosystems in Georgia. The project is designed to help prevent a Threatened or Endangered listing of the gopher tortoise under the Endangered Species Act. Between RCPP and partner contribution investments, an estimated 8,000 acres of private and public lands will benefit from land management activities. This project builds on the existing Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative established in 2015.
Type of easement enrollment offered: U.S.-held easement; easements held by USDA-NRCS.
RCPP primary easement purposes:
- Easement funds should be targeted to land that has a viable tortoise population or could hit that number through reintroduction of relocated gopher tortoises, and improvement of the habitat.
- Priority should go to lands already containing quality native groundcover or that can be restored as longleaf pine and native groundcover forest.
- Partner Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will contact owners of high-priority properties, and if the owners are willing to consider the sale of an easement to NRCS, DNR will introduce the parties to each other.
The focus area in GA: Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Baker, Ben Hill, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Bryan, Bulloch, Burke, Calhoun, Camden, Candler, Charlton, Chatham, Chattahoochee, Clay, Coffee, Colquitt, Columbia, Cook, Crisp, Decatur, Dodge, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Echols, Effingham, Emanuel, Evans, Glynn, Grady, Irwin, Jeff Davis, Jenkins, Johnson, Lanier, Laurens, Lee, Liberty, Long, Lowndes, Macon, Marion, McDuffie, McIntosh, Miller, Mitchell, Montgomery, Muscogee, Pierce, Quitman, Randolph, Richmond, Schley, Screven, Seminole, Stewart, Sumter, Talbot, Tattnall, Taylor, Telfair, Terrell, Thomas, Tift, Toombs, Treutlen, Turner, Ware, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, Wilcox and Worth counties.
US Endowment (Contractor)
Project ID# 2419 - The Working Farms Fund
The Conservation Fund is the lead partner for this project and in collaboration with six local partners, proposes to establish the first-of-its-kind program in the country, known as the Working Farms Fund. The project will permanently protect farmland across the Atlanta metropolitan foodshed and create opportunities for ambitious, diverse farmers to access affordable farms through an innovative buy-protect-sell model. Partners, such as Emory University and the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center will help report on social and economic outcomes of the project, and the partnership is committed to ensuring that at least 20% of its participating farmers come from historically underserved groups.
Type of easement enrollment offered: entity-held easement; entity holding easement: Athens Land Trust.
RCPP primary easement purposes:
- The Conservation Fund will work with Athens Land Trust who will be the Eligible Entity supporting the Long-Term Protection for farmland in the program. The Conservation Fund will purchase the farmland on behalf of the farmer. During the lease period with the matched farmer, The Conservation Fund will continue to hold the property while the Eligible Entity works with the next generation producer who has a lease with option to purchase the farm.
- The Conservation Fund’s Working Farms Fund Program is anchored in the rural belt outside of metropolitan Atlanta and is designed to save farmland from development near metropolitan areas to ensure the viability of farms near markets to ensure the success of the local food system. Entity Held Easements in the Working Farms Fund project will be under imminent threat due to their adjacency to the expanding and increasing population center of Atlanta.
- The Entity Held Easement will support the ongoing investment in land management practices by ensuring the long-term success of next generation farm businesses that will investment in healthy soils and sustainable conservation practices on the land.
The focus area in GA: Harris, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Newton, Rockdale counties only.
Working Farms Fund Associate
The Conservation Fund
How to Apply
Eligible landowners interested in applying under one of these projects should first contact the project contact listed above. Through collaboration with the project partners, applicants will need to submit a Conservation Program Application (NRCS-CPA-1200) to their local USDA-NRCS office.
For More Information
NRCS provides leadership in a partnership effort to help people conserve, maintain and improve our natural resources and environment. More information on NRCS conservation programs can be found at https://www.farmers.gov/ or https://www.ga.nrcs.usda.gov.
If you would like more information about this sign-up from USDA-NRCS, please contact Sharon Swagger, State Easement Specialist at 706-546-2203 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Marcus Griffin, RCPP Management & Program Analyst at 706-546-2254 or email@example.com.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit usda.gov.