USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is currently accepting applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP).
ACEP offers two easement options, the Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and the Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE). A total of $14.5 million is available for ACEP applicants throughout California.
“These programs provide landowners opportunities to protect and enhance agricultural lands and restore wetlands ecosystems,” said Carlos Suarez, NRCS state conservationist in California. “They provide a means to keep working land in production, preserve open space, and provide great benefit to our state’s natural resources and wildlife.”
ALE funds are provided to eligible entities to cost-share the purchase of conservation easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation values of privately owned land. Eligible lands include cropland, rangeland, nonindustrial private forestland, pastureland, grasslands of special environmental significance and options focused on areas of high sage-grouse populations. Approved agricultural easements would prevent productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses and maximize protection of land devoted to food production. Landowners are encouraged to work with a local eligible entity to apply for the program, such as a land trust or local government agency that has funds to match the ALE program.
WRE provides compensation to farmers, ranchers and other private landowners for land placed in wetland conservation easements, and cost-share funding for restoring degraded wetlands. Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in a 30-year contract. This year, WRE will include the Grazing Reserve Rights option which allows participants with an approved wetland and grazing management plan to enroll grazed land. The grazing rights option is available in three geographic areas: Coastal Pastures & Wetlands of the North Coast, California Vernal Pools, and Intermountain Wetlands of Eastern California. Interested landowners should contact their local NRCS field office to apply for the program.
ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS. However, applications for current funding must be submitted on or before May 15, 2015. ACEP, created in the 2014 Farm Bill, replaced the former Wetlands Reserve Program, Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, and Grassland Reserve Program, while accomplishing many of the same conservation goals.
As with all NRCS easements, the landowner retains the title to the land, and the right to control access and recreational use. The land remains on the tax rolls. Learn more about ACEP by visiting www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/programs.
Since its inception in 1935, NRCS has worked in partnership with private landowners and a variety of local, state and federal conservation partners to deliver conservation based on specific, local needs.