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.
Related: New Farm Bill Streamlines Conservation Programs
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.