Applications for conservation funding authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill are now being accepted, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week.
The programs will provide up to $386 million to help farmers restore wetlands, protect working agriculture lands, support outdoor recreation activities and boost the economy.
"By protecting working lands and wetlands, we're able to strengthen agricultural operations, sustain the nation's food supply and protect habitat for a variety of wildlife," Vilsack said. "In addition, we're providing states and Tribal governments a tool to expand access to private lands for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities, which helps boost wildlife-related businesses and grow the economy."
The new programs are the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program.
Ag Conservation Easements Program
Through the 2014 Farm Bill's new conservation programs, USDA is making available up to $366 million for conservation easements under 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, making conservation efforts more efficient while strengthening tools to protect land and water.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service administers the two components of ACEP. 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.
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.
Applications for ACEP funding consideration in fiscal year 2014 must be submitted by the individual state deadline or June 6, 2014, whichever is earlier. Applications and state deadline information can be obtained at your local USDA Service Center or at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.
Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program
VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and Tribal governments to increase opportunities for owners and managers of private lands who want to make their land available for public recreation. Up to $20 million is available this year for VPA-HIP.
Recipients of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program can use the grant funding to create new or expand existing public access programs. These programs provide financial incentives or technical assistance, such as rental payments or wildlife habitat planning services, to owners and managers who allow public access.
Funding priority will be given to applications that propose to: Maximize private lands acreage available to the public; ensure that land enrolled in the program has appropriate wildlife habitat; strengthen wildlife habitat improvement efforts; supplement funding and services from other federal or state agencies, tribes or private resources; and provide information to the public about the location of public access land.