Private landowners and eligible entities encouraged to apply by May 15
SOMERSET, April 1, 2015 – Yesterday Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that U.S. Department of Agriculture is making available $332 million in financial and technical assistance through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). Conservation easements are an important tool to help landowners and partners voluntarily provide long-term protection of our nation’s farmland, ranchland, wetlands and grasslands for future generations.
According to USDA-NRCS State Conservationist Carrie Mosley, nearly 700 acres were enrolled in this program in New Jersey in fiscal year 2014. “ACEP funds help New Jersey landowners protect resources vital for New Jersey communities,” Mosley said “The eleven farmland easements established in 2014 are preserving prime soils for agriculture. The five wetland easements will allow these areas to continue important wetland functions like maintaining plant and animal communities, providing water filtration or purification, and recharging groundwater,” Mosley said, “We hope to accomplish even more for New Jersey through ACEP in 2015.”
ACEP was first introduced in the 2014 Farm Bill. It consists of two components: farmland preservation and wetland restoration and preservation. The farmland preservation component (previously called the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program or FRPP and the Grassland Reserve Program or GRP) is intended for whole farms. The wetland component (previously called the Wetlands Reserve Program or WRP) is intended for parts of a farm where wetlands were removed or modified for agriculture. These wetlands are restored to their natural function and state.
ACEP’s agricultural land easements not only protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses, but they also support environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space. State and local governments and non-governmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to purchase conservation easements. A key change under the new agricultural land easement component is the new “grasslands of special environmental significance” that will protect high-quality grasslands that are under threat of conversion to cropping, urban development and other non-grazing uses.
Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect and enhance wetlands through the purchase of these easements, and Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement.
ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS; however, applications for the current funding round must be submitted on or before May 15, 2015.