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News Release

USDA Announces $350 Million Available to Help States, Private Partners Protect and Restore Grasslands, Wetlands, and Working Lands

LITTLE ROCK, AR, – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the availability of $350 million to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the nation. The funding is provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), created by the 2014 Farm Bill to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat, and encourage private owners to maintain land for farming and ranching. Through the voluntary sale of an easement, landowners limit future development to protect these key resources.  USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will accept ACEP applications to help productive farm and ranch lands remain in agriculture and to protect the nation's critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species.

“The benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands cannot be overstated,” Vilsack said. “USDA is committed to preserving working agricultural lands to help protect the long-term viability of farming across the country as well as to restoring and protecting vital sensitive wetlands that provide important wildlife habitat and improve water quality.”

ACEP's agricultural land easements not only protect the long-term viability of the nation's food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses, they also support environmental quality, wildlife habitat, historic preservation and protection of open spaces. Native American Tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to purchase conservation easements.

ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS; however, applications for the current funding round must be submitted on or before Jan. 29, 2016.

“Wetland reserve easements provide habitat for fish and wildlife, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater, and provide opportunities for educational, scientific and outdoor

recreational activities,” said Mike Sullivan, Arkansas state conservationist.  “In fiscal year (FY) 2015, Arkansas NRCS enrolled seven easements totaling approximately 6,000 acres of wetlands utilizing $18 million in acquisition and restoration funds through ACEP’s Wetlands Reserve Easements.”

Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.

In FY 2014 and FY 2015, NRCS invested more than $600 million in ACEP funding to help landowners engage in voluntary conservation to provide long-term protection of an estimated 250,000 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through more than 750 new easements.

To learn about ACEP and other technical and financial assistance available through NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted, www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/ar/programs/easements/acep/, or your local USDA Service Center.