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New Funding Available from USDA Agriculture Conservation Easements Program

Through the 2014 Farm Bill’s new conservation programs, USDA is making available up to $366 million for conservation easements under the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) to state and local governments, Indian tribes, non-governmental organizations and private landowners. ACEP consolidates three former easement programs — the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program — into one to make conservation efforts more efficient while strengthening tools to protect land and water.  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the two components of ACEP, one for agricultural land easements and one for wetland reserve easements.
Under the agricultural land component, funds are provided to eligible entities that can use ACEP funding to purchase agricultural land easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation values of eligible land.  Eligible lands for agricultural land component include cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland and nonindustrial private forest land. Application priority will be given to proposals preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses and maximizing the protection of land devoted to growing the nation’s food supply.
Under the wetland reserve component, funding is provided to landowners for the purchase of an easement and for restoration funds to restore and enhance wetlands, improving habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. Lands that are eligible for a wetland reserve easement include farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored. Applications also will be prioritized based on the easement’s potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife.
The deadline for application is June 6 for fiscal year 2014 funding. More information can be obtained at your local USDA Service Center or at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.
This is a perfect opportunity to use the Source Water Collaborative’s USDA toolkit (see step 3), to reach out to your NRCS State Conservationists office and/or attend a State Technical Committee meeting to learn more about implementation in individual states.  You may also want to use the Source Water Collaborative’s NACD toolkit to partner with conservation districts to encourage producer participation in priority areas for drinking water source protection.