COLUMBUS, March 26, 2019 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) encourages people and groups wanting to restore and protect critical wetlands, agricultural lands and grasslands to consider enrolling their property into conservation easements. This year, NRCS will provide technical and financial assistance to help private landowners, tribes, land trusts, and other groups protect these valuable lands.
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) focuses on restoring and protecting wetlands as well as conserving productive agricultural lands and grasslands. Landowners are compensated for enrolling their land in easements.
“Protecting these lands preserves Ohio’s heritage, natural resources and open space,” said Terry Cosby, NRCS State Conservationist in Ohio. “Easements are an important tool for people who are trying to preserve the land for future generations.”
Applications for ACEP are taken on a continuous basis. The ranking and funding deadline for this year is
April 19, 2019.
Wetland Reserve Easements
Through ACEP wetland reserve easements, NRCS helps landowners restore and protect wetland ecosystems. Wetlands are one of nature’s most productive ecosystems providing many ecological, societal and economic benefits.
In the 1700s, wetlands covered 5 million acres of Ohio, primarily in the northwestern part of the State, referred to as the “Great Black Swamp.” Competing land uses resulted in a 90 percent loss of wetlands by the late 1900s. Since 2005, NRCS has assisted landowners in restoring more than 25,000 acres of wetlands in Ohio.
“Wetlands provide many benefits, including critical habitat for a wide array of wildlife species. They also store floodwaters, clean and recharge groundwater, sequester carbon, trap sediment, and filter pollutants for clean water,” said Cosby.
“Seventy-five percent of the nation's wetlands are situated on private and tribal lands,” Cosby added. Over the last five years, Ohio landowners have restored over 5,600 acres of wetlands through ACEP. Landowners can choose either a permanent or 30-year wetland conservation easement.
Eligible lands include farmed or converted wetlands that can successfully be restored, croplands or grasslands subject to flooding, previously restored wetlands and riparian areas that link protected wetland areas. As part of the easement, NRCS and the landowner work together to develop a plan for the restoration and maintenance of the wetland.
Agricultural Land Easements
Through ACEP agricultural land easements, NRCS provides funds to conservation partners to purchase conservation easements on private working lands. This program helps keep working lands working, especially in areas experiencing development pressure.
Partners include State or local agencies, non-profits, and tribes. Landowners continue to own their property, but voluntarily enter into a legal agreement with a cooperating entity to purchase an easement. The cooperating entity applies for matching funds from NRCS for the purchase of an easement from the landowner, permanently protecting its agricultural use and conservation values. Landowners do not apply directly to NRCS for funding under this program.
Easements are permanent. Eligible lands include privately owned cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland and forestlands.
Ohio landowners interested in wetland reserve easements and partners interested in agricultural easements should contact their local USDA Service Center.