For years, landowners voluntarily enrolled eligible land into either the Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program, or Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program. The programs had good benefits: they set aside non-agricultural land for the benefit of wildlife and the government paid landowners to do so.
Well, the programs are still alive, but they go by different names. The 2014 Farm Bill essentially consolidated the aforementioned programs to create the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which then administers Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE).
The ACEP easement programs provide essentially the same services as the forerunners. ALE helps “private and tribal landowners, land trusts, and other entities such as state and local governments protect croplands and grasslands on working farms and ranches by limiting non-agricultural uses of the land through conservation easements.” Similarly, WRE helps “private and tribal landowners protect, restore and enhance wetlands which have been previously degraded due to agricultural uses.”
ACEP is administered by a totem pole of government agencies, with the US Department of Agriculture at the top, and falls directly under the management of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Landowners can choose between various degrees of commitment, which range from restoration agreements to permanent easements, and the USDA pays anywhere from 75 to 100 percent of restoration costs.
And you don’t have to have thousands of acres to apply for the ALE or WRE assistance. Lands eligible for ALE include private or tribal land that is either agricultural, cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, and nonindustrial private forest land. For WRE, privately held farmed or converted wetland that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored are eligible.
Participants voluntarily limit future use of the land but retain private ownership. On acreage subject to an easement, participants control access to the land and may lease the land for hunting, fishing, and other undeveloped recreational activities. The NRCS and the landowner jointly determine the restoration plan for the enrolled land. For more information, visit https://tinyurl.com/landease.
Russ Lumpkin is the editor of Guideftter Journal.
From the Summer 2022 Issue of Guidefitter Journal.