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News Release

USDA Invites Input on Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Rule

Contact:
Mindi Rambo, Public Affairs Specialist, 208.378.5720

BOISE, ID, January 7, 2020 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).  ACEP is USDA’s premier conservation easement program, helping landowners protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. The rule – now available on the Federal Register – takes effect on publication and includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Through easements, agricultural landowners are protecting agricultural lands from development, restoring grazing lands and returning wetlands to their natural conditions,” NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr said. “The new changes to ACEP under the 2018 Farm Bill make it stronger and more effective and will result in even better protection of our nation’s farmlands, grasslands and wetlands.”

NRCS is investing more than $300 million in conservation easements for fiscal 2020. NRCS state offices will announce signup periods for ACEP in the coming weeks.

Changes to ACEP for agricultural land easements include:

  • Authorizing assistance to partners who pursue “Buy-Protect-Sell” transactions.
  • Requiring a conservation plan for highly erodible land that will be protected by an agricultural land easement.
  • Increasing flexibility for partners to meet cost-share matching requirements.

Changes to ACEP for wetland reserve easements include:

  • Identifying water quality as a program purpose for enrollment of wetland reserve easements.
  • Expanding wetland types eligible for restoration and management under wetland reserve easements

“Conservation easements have a tremendous footprint in the U.S. with nearly 5 million acres already enrolled. That’s 58,000 square miles,” Lohr said. “This is a great testament to NRCS’s and landowner’s commitment to conservation.”

Submitting Comments

NRCS invites comments on this interim rule through March 6 on the Federal Register. Electronic comments must be submitted through regulations.gov under Docket ID NRCS-2019-0006. All written comments received will be publicly available on regulations.gov, too.

NRCS will evaluate public comments to determine whether additional changes are needed. The agency plans on publishing a final rule following public comment review.

Applying for ACEP

ACEP aids landowners and eligible entities with conserving, restoring and protecting wetlands, productive agricultural lands and grasslands. NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally.

Easements in Idaho

Currently across Idaho there are 86,341 acres covered by NRCS easements. These easements provide for the conservation of agricultural production as well as protect valuable wetlands, which are critical not only for wildlife and livestock but also watershed and aquifer health.

“NRCS easement programs are important for farmers and ranchers planning succession for children interested in agriculture,” said Wade Brown, NRCS Idaho Easement Specialist. “They provide long-term conservation and, at the same time, provide a financial edge that allows for a new generation of farmers or ranchers to get started.  This makes easements an ideal tool in estate planning for agricultural producers.”

According to Brown, signup information for FY2020 will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

For more information on how to sign up for ACEP, visit your state website at nrcs.usda.gov or contact your local NRCS field office.

 

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