Federal Funding to Boost Wildlife Habitat

By author of The Duck Blog

Program Preserves, Enhances Wetlands, Grasslands, Farmland

Money will be provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to help landowners protect and restore critical farmlands, grasslands and wetlands.  The federal government wants to encourage folks to preserve wildlife habitat and maintain land for farming and ranching — in a big way.

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Nov. 16 that $350 million will be made available to help landowners protect and restore critical farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the country. Money will be provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a release. Through voluntary sale of an easement, landowners can limit future development, conserve critical resources and prevent conversion of working land to non-agricultural uses.

“The benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands cannot be overstated,” Vilsack said in the release. “USDA is committed to preserving working agricultural lands to help protect the long-term viability of farming across the country, as well as to restoring and protecting vital sensitive wetlands that provide important wildlife habitat and improve water quality.”

ACEP’s agricultural land easements will protect the long-term sustainability of the country’s food supply while supporting wildlife habitat, environmental quality and open areas, the release said. Eligible lands include cropland, rangeland, grassland, pasture ground and non-industrial private forest land.

Wetland reserve easements let landowners restore and protect habitat while recharging groundwater, reducing potential flood damage and providing outdoor recreation. Land eligible for wetland reserve easements includes farmed or converted wetlands that can be restored cost-effectively.

During 2014 and 2015, the release said, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service invested more than $600 million in ACEP money through more than 750 new easements to provide long-term protection for about 250,000 acres of farmland, grassland and wetlands. ACEP money was used in north-central Iowa to add almost 400 acres to a 600-acre wetland complex protecting Big Wall Lake. Also, two land trusts in Colorado plan to use ACEP money to enroll 1,805 acres to protect sage grouse habitat.

To learn more about ACEP or other NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.