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USDA Provides $4.6 Million to Protect and Restore Agricultural Working Lands, Grasslands and Wetlands Across Nebraska. Applications due May 1

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is now accepting applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). This program, created under the 2014 Farm Bill, provides funding for the purchase of conservation easements to help productive farm and ranch land remain in agriculture and protect critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species.

Nebraska state conservationist Craig Derickson said, “Conservation easements are a good tool to ensure natural resources are conserved and protected for all Nebraskans. We encourage Indian tribes, state and local governments, non-governmental organizations and private landowners to contact their local NRCS office to apply.”

According to Derickson, the main goal of ACEP is to prevent productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses and protect land devoted to food production and wildlife habitat. Cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland and nonindustrial private forestland are eligible.

“Through ACEP, there are several exciting conservation opportunities available all across Nebraska. For example, the Nebraska Land Trust is using ACEP to work with private landowners to enroll more than 960 acres of native grazing lands on a working ranch that provides critical habitat for Nebraska's bighorn sheep and elk.”

Applications may be submitted at any time; but to be considered for 2015 funding opportunities, applications in Nebraska must be received by May 1. Applications are currently being accepted for both agricultural land and wetlands reserve easements.

ACEP's agricultural land easements support environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space. A key change under the agricultural land easement option is the new "grasslands of special environmental significance" component that will protect high-quality grasslands that are under threat of conversion to cropping, urban development and other non-grazing uses.

ACEP’s wetland reserve easements allow landowners to enhance and protect habitat for wildlife, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance directly to private and tribal landowners to restore, protect and enhance wetlands through the purchase of these easements. Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement; tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.

All ACEP wetland reserve easement applications will be rated according to the easement’s potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife. Eligible applicants will be compensated with a payment rate comparable to the local land use value. (See attached GARC rate map for 2015. )

Applicants will need to provide accurate records of ownership and ensure they have established a record of ownership with USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Application information is available at your local USDA Service Center and at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.

“NRCS staff will work with all interested applicants to help them through the application process and provide one-on-one assistance to create the conservation easement that works best for their farming or ranching operation,” Derickson said.

For more information about the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the programs and services it provides, visit your local USDA Service Center or www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov.