The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently reached a milestone pertaining to conservation easements. More than five million acres of wetlands, grasslands, and farmland have been protected through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The total represents an area roughly the size of New Jersey. There have been 110,000 acres of newly enrolled conservation easements since October, which has helped reach the latest milestone.
“USDA is committed to partnering with our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and private landowners to conserve our nation’s natural resources for future generations and deliver conservation and recreational benefits to rural America,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. “We celebrate their efforts in helping us protect sensitive lands, create jobs, expand access to the outdoors, and help tackle climate change. We look forward to building on these partnerships.”
More than 2.8 million acres of wetland easements have helped improve the conditions of waterways nationwide. Wetland easements help reduce flood risk, improve water quality, protect biological diversity, and recharge groundwater. Nearly two million acres of agricultural land easements have helped to protect valuable farmland from urban encroachment. Ag land easements, which include grassland easements, protect the long-term viability of the American food supply chain.
Easements play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change. The preservation and restoration of grasslands, wetlands, farmlands, and forests can be combined with other climate-smart management practices. USDA has refocused its efforts under the Biden-Harris Administration to protect biodiversity and natural resources.
Conservation easements have been offered through NRCS for nearly 30 years. Through various initiatives like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, landowners have been able to protect air quality, water quality, and valuable open spaces. NRCS offices remain available to assist farmers, ranchers, and private foresters enroll farmland, grasslands, and wetlands in a variety of conservation programs.