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News Release

NRCS Seeks Citizen Input on Easement Program Interim Final Rule

Diane Dunaway

Richmond, VA, February 27, 2015 – Virginia landowners and conservation partners now have an opportunity to help shape the conservation easement process by submitting comments on the interim final rule for the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). The 60-day comment period ends on April 28, 2015.

Created in the 2014 Farm Bill, ACEP consolidates three previous conservation easement programs to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives. This voluntary program encourages farmers and non-industrial forest landowners to keep their land in agricultural use (agricultural land easement component - ALE) or protect/restore critical wetlands (wetland reserve easement component - WRE). ACEP also conserves grasslands, including pastureland and shrubland.

With ALE, tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with USDA to purchase conservation easements. These easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Other benefits include environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.

WRE offers NRCS technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect and enhance enrolled wetlands through permanent or 30-year easements. Wetlands offer many conservation benefits, including enhanced fish and wildlife habitat; improved water quality; reduced damage from flooding; recharging of groundwater; protection of biological diversity, and opportunities for educational, scientific, and (limited) recreational activities.

“2014 was a banner year for NRCS easements in the Commonwealth with 14 closed and eight more in the acquisition process,” says Jack Bricker, State Conservationist. “Our most recent conservation easement permanently protects 86 acres of wetland and adjacent habitat in Charlotte County. We look forward to working with many more landowners to protect more of Virginia’s prime farm and wetlands with ACEP.”

View the official notice of the proposed ACEP interim final rule in the Federal Register. You can submit comments electronically through or in writing (hand carried or mailed) to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0011, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-1112D, Beltsville, MD 20705.

Please visit the ACEP or Farm Bill Program Rules pages on the NRCS website for more information on the ACEP statutory changes.