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USDA Announces Conservation Easement Funding for FY2021

There’s good news for Connecticut’s agricultural landowners and eligible entities as Thomas L. Morgart, Connecticut State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced the agency is accepting applications for its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

Enrolling agricultural land helps secure the future of the nation’s food supply, prevents it from being developed or going to a non-agricultural use, and provides public benefits including environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat, and protection of open space.

Land eligible for agricultural easements includes cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, and non-industrial private forest land. 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.

“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,” said Morgart.

The ACEP Program has two components, one for Agricultural Land Easements (ALE), and one for Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE). 

  • Under the ALE component, funds are provided to eligible entities that use ACEP funding to purchase permanent agricultural land easements that not only protect the future of the nation's food supply, they also support environmental quality, wildlife habitat, and historic preservation and protection of open spaces. Entities wishing to enter into new ACEP-ALE agreements or have existing program agreements who want to add parcels to their program agreement must submit applications to the Connecticut NRCS State Office by March 1, 2021, to be considered for FY2021 funding.  New landowner applicants who are interested must apply through an eligible entity – such as a land trust, municipality, or the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. 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.
  • Under the WRE component, funding is provided directly to landowners for the purchase of an easement and for restoration. Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully restore, enhance, and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce damage from flooding, recharge groundwater, and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. Eligible landowners may choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement; tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts. Eligible lands include farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored.   

Although NRCS accepts applications year-round, to be eligible for current year funding you must ensure your WRE  application is submitted to your local NRCS office by March 1, 2021. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, our offices are not currently open to the public. However, we can assist you remotely. Please contact your local USDA Service Center for assistance.

Not sure how to begin? Visit the Getting Started section of our website, then establish records and fill out eligibility forms. NRCS staff will need to complete an assessment of resource conditions and practice feasibility prior to making a determination of program eligibility.