The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released the final rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Updates to the program were made as directed by the 2018 Farm Bill. The ACEP final rule also incorporates public feedback that was provided on the interim rule released in January 2020. ACEP provides financial and technical assistance to help keep agricultural lands from being converted to other uses. The program also helps to restore and protect wetlands through the use of innovative conservation systems.
“Conservation easements are a critical conservation tool helping landowners sustain vital working landscapes and wetland ecosystems,” acting chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Terry Cosby said in a press release. “These minor updates to the ACEP final rule are intended to improve processes that will help strengthen the impacts of our investments and continue to elevate protection of ecologically important lands through voluntary conservation.”
ACEP enables farmers and other private landowners to protect farmlands, grasslands, and wetlands with conservation easements. The program includes several components such as agricultural land easements (ALE) and wetland reserve easements (WRE). Some of the changes added to the ACEP final rule include revised definitions for beginning farmers and ranchers and eligible land. Clarifications were also made to farm or ranch succession plans. Priority for lands enrolled in Transition Incentives Program under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP-TIP) has been included in the ranking criteria for ACEP-WRE.
Several updates were also made to ACEP-ALE. Clarifications for non-federal match requirements have been made and new types of costs have been added to satisfy requirements. Regulatory language detailing inspection authority has also been updated. Revisions have been made to specify the duration for all ACEP-ALE agreements. ACEP-ALE ranking criteria will now also include priority for lands enrolled in CRP-TIP. A regulatory deed requirement has been modified clarifying types of changes that need to be approved for the easement deed or easement area.