Applications are now being accepted for two new conservation programs created under the 2014 Farm Bill.
The Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) has up to $366 million available to state and local governments, Native American tribes, nongovernmental organizations and private landowners. ACEP consolidates three former easement programs: the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program.
Applications for ACEP must be submitted by the individual state deadline or June 6, whichever is earlier. Applications and state deadline information can be obtained at local USDA Service Centers or online. Agreements will be finalized beginning in late August.
The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) has up to $20 million available. The competitive grant program 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.
Agricultural Conservation Easements Program
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service administers the two components of ACEP, one for agricultural land easements and one for wetland reserve easements.
Under the agricultural land easement 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. Eligible lands include cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland and nonindustrial private forest land. Application priority will be given to proposals preventing conversion of productive working lands to nonagricultural 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.
Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program
VPA-HIP recipients 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.