Landowners interested in receiving technical and financial assistance through the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service Agricultural Conservation Easement Program can apply for the current funding round through May 15.
About $332 million in financial and technical assistance is available. ACEP projects will help productive farm and ranch lands remain in agriculture and "protect the nation's critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species," USDA said.
"Conservation easements are an important tool to help these landowners and partners voluntarily provide long-term protection of our nation's farmland, ranchland, wetlands and grasslands for future generations," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP.
ACEP's agricultural land easements not only protect the long-term viability of the nation's food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses, but they also support environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space, USDA said.
A key change under the new agricultural land easement component is the new "grasslands of special environmental significance" that will protect high-quality grasslands that are under threat of conversion to cropping, urban development and other non-grazing uses.
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Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities.
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.
ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS, though applications for the current funding round must be submitted on or before May 15, 2015.