Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

USDA offers assistance to protect ag and grasslands


April 11, 2019

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) encourages people and groups wanting to protect critical wetlands, agricultural lands and grasslands to consider enrolling their property into conservation easements.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service will begin implementation of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program under the new 2018 Farm Bill. ACEP provides financial assistance to help landowners, tribes, land trusts and other groups protect these valuable lands. It focuses on restoring and protecting wetlands as well as conserving productive agricultural lands and grasslands. Landowners are compensated for enrolling their land in easements.

“Protecting these lands preserves Washington’s heritage, natural resources and open space,” said Roylene Rides at the Door, NRCS state conservationist. “Easements are also important tools for people who are trying to improve the management of their land.”

Applications for ACEP are taken on a continuous basis, and they are ranked and considered for funding at least once each year. The next deadline for applications is April 19.

The recently passed 2018 Farm Bill continues to fund ACEP through the 2023 program year. In recent years, NRCS has invested close to $18 million in ACEP funding in Washington State.

Through ACEP wetland reserve easements, NRCS helps eligible private landowners and tribes restore and protect wetland ecosystems. Wetlands are one of nature’s most productive ecosystems providing many ecological, societal and economic benefits.

“Seventy-five percent of the nation's wetlands are situated on private and tribal lands,” Rides at the Door said. “Wetlands provide many benefits, including critical habitat for a wide array of wildlife species. They also store floodwaters, clean and recharge groundwater, sequester carbon, trap sediment and filter pollutants for clean water.”

Wetland conservation easements are either permanent or for 30 years. Eligible lands include farmed or converted wetlands that can successfully be restored, croplands or grasslands subject to flooding, and riparian areas that link protected wetland areas. As part of the easement, NRCS and the landowner work together to develop a plan for the restoration and maintenance of the wetland.

Through ACEP agricultural land easements, NRCS provides funds to eligible cooperating entities to purchase conservation easements on private working lands. This program helps keep working lands working, especially in areas experiencing development pressure.

Eligible cooperating entities include state or local agencies, non-profits and tribes. Landowners continue to own their property but voluntarily enter into a legal agreement with a cooperating entity to purchase an easement. The cooperating entity applies for matching funds from NRCS for the purchase of an easement from the landowner, permanently protecting its agricultural use and conservation values. Landowners do not apply directly to NRCS for funding under this program.

Agricultural land easements are permanent. Eligible lands include privately owned cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland and forestlands.


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