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USDA announces increased funding for conservation easements

USDA announces increased funding for conservation easements

By Blake Jackson

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is encouraging landowners to consider enrolling their property in conservation easements to protect critical wetlands, agricultural lands, and grasslands. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law in August 2022, provides an additional $19.5 billion over five years to support USDA conservation programs, including the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

ACEP provides financial and technical assistance to private landowners, tribes, land trusts, and other groups to protect valuable lands. Landowners who enroll their property in an ACEP easement receive compensation for voluntarily limiting certain land uses.

There are two types of ACEP easements: Wetland Reserve Easements (WREs) and Agricultural Land Easements (ALEs).

Wetland Reserve Easements

WREs help landowners and tribes restore and protect wetland ecosystems. Wetlands are one of nature's most productive ecosystems, providing many ecological, societal, and economic benefits. WREs can be either permanent or for 30 years in length. Eligible lands include farmed or drained wetlands that can be successfully restored, croplands or grasslands that have been altered by flooding, and riparian areas that link protected wetland areas.

Agricultural Land Easements

ALEs help keep working lands in production, especially in areas experiencing development pressure. Landowners continue to own their property but voluntarily enter into a legal agreement with a cooperating entity to purchase an easement. All ALE easements are permanent. Eligible lands include privately owned cropland, rangeland, grassland, pasture, and forests.

Increased Funding for Fiscal Year 2024

The IRA provides an additional $189 million nationwide to ACEP in fiscal year 2024. This funding will allow NRCS to expand the national priority areas eligible for ACEP funding and to fund more easements than in recent years.

National Priority Areas for Fiscal Year 2024

NRCS priority focus areas for ACEP-WREs in fiscal year 2024 include:

  • Land with soils high in organic carbon
  • Eligible lands that will be restored to and managed as forests like bottomland hardwood forests
  • Eligible lands in existing forest cover that will be managed as forests
  • Several geographically specific priorities (i.e., former cranberry bogs, wet meadows, and ephemeral wetlands in grassland ecosystems)

NRCS priority focus areas for ACEP-ALEs in fiscal year 2024 include:

  • Grasslands in areas of highest risk for conversion to non-grassland uses to prevent the release of soil carbon stores
  • Agricultural lands under threat of conversion to non-agricultural uses
  • State-specific priorities including rice cultivation on subsiding highly organic soils

How to Apply

Applications for ACEP-WREs and ACEP-ALEs are taken on a continuous basis and are ranked and considered for funding once a year. The deadline to submit applications for fiscal year 2024 is November 13, 2023.

For more information on ACEP-WREs, please contact your local USDA service center. For more information on ACEP-ALEs, please contact the NRCS Wisconsin State Office.


Photo Credit: getty-images-elhenyo

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Categories: Wisconsin, Sustainable Agriculture

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