The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). This program, created under the 2014 Farm Bill, provides funding for the purchase of conservation easements to help productive farm and ranch land remain in agriculture and protect critical wetlands and grasslands.
Kansas state conservationist Eric B. Banks said, “Conservation easements provides many public benefits to Kansans, including protection of open spaces, wildlife habit, and wetland preservation. We encourage private landowners, Indian tribes, and non-governmental organizations to contact their local NRCS office to apply.” There are two programs under ACEP, each with a different application process. Visting the NRCS office will ensure the applicant gets directions on the correct application process.
The goal of ACEP is to protect land devoted to food production and wildlife habitat from being converted to non-agricultural uses. ACEP is a voluntary program for landowners or tribal governments that allows them to leave a conservation heritage for their family and community. Landowners can chose between the ACEP-Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) or ACEP-Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE) enrollments options. ALEs protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. The WRE component provides habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species; improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals; reduce flooding; recharge groundwater; and protect biological diversity
In 2014, approximately $4.4 million in combined fianancial and technical assistance was obligated, with 4,869 acres enrolled (latest compiled figures) in Kansas.
In fiscal year 2016, an addition for Kansas under ACEP-WRE is the “Wetland Reserve Easement Reservation of Grazing Rights Option” for the playa wetland region in select counties in western Kansas. Landowners in these counties can select an enrollment option for length of time as well as for Reservation of Grazing Rights. The selection for a Reservation of Grazing Rights will result in a 25 percent reduction in the easement payment, in addition to any other reductions to the easement payment per enrollment option as applicable.
NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands through the purchase of conservation easements. Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.
NRCS staff will work with applicants to help them through the application process and provide one-on-one assistance to create the conservation easement that works best for their farming or ranching operation.
All WRE applications will be rated according to the easement’s potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife. Eligible applicants will be compensated with a payment rate comparable to the local land use value. Those rates are posted on the Kansas NRCS Web site.
It is important that applicants provide accurate records of ownership and ensure they have established a record of ownership with USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Application information is available at your local USDA Service Center and at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.
Applications can be submitted at any time, but to be considered for 2016 funding opportunities, applications in Kansas must be received by January 15, 2016. Applications are currently being accepted for both agricultural land and wetlands reserve easements.
Please contact your local NRCS office or conservation district office located at your local county U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center (listed in the telephone book under United States Government or on the internet at offices.usda.gov) for assistance. More information is also available on the Kansas Web site at www.ks.nrcs.usda.gov. Follow us on Twitter @NRCS_Kansas. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.