USDA provides $4.4 million for Utah ag and wetlands easements

Utah Lake

SALT LAKE CITY– Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Department of Agriculture is investing $328 million to help private landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands. Utah will receive more than $4 million of that USDA expenditure.

The 2014 Farm Bill created the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, or ACEP, to protect critical wetlands and keep lands in farming and ranching for the future.

“Conservation easements help farmers and ranchers protect valuable agricultural lands from development while enhancing lands best suited for grazing and wetlands to their natural conditions,” Pedro Ramos, assistant State Conservationist for Programs in Utah, said.  “These easements are making a dramatic and positive impact for food supply, rural communities, and species habitat,” he added.

In Utah, a good portion of ACEP funding will go for rangeland easements ($2.6 million) aimed at helping improve habitat for sage grouse, a wildlife species under consideration for protection under the Endangered Species Act. An estimated $789,000 will be set aside for wetland easements and $733,000 for easements that protect prime farmland.

Through ACEP, private or tribal landowners and eligible conservation partners working with landowners can request assistance from USDA to protect and enhance agricultural land through an agricultural or wetland easement.

These easements deliver many benefits over the long term, for example, this year’s projects will improve water quality and wetland storage capacity, as well as reduce flooding along Utah rivers;

Provide and protect habitat for threatened, endangered and at-risk species including sage grouse and the Southwestern willow flycatcher to recover populations and reduce regulatory burdens; and

Protect prime agricultural land under high risk of development in urban areas to help secure the nation’s food supply and jobs in the agricultural sector.

ACEP consolidates three former NRCS easement programs, Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program, into two components, one that protects farmlands and grasslands and another that protects and restores agricultural wetlands.

“The 2014 Farm Bill streamlined USDAs major easement programs into one, putting the important benefits of protecting farmlands, grasslands and wetlands all under one roof to make it as easy as possible for landowners to participate,” Ramos said.

To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.