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Deadline Approaches For Federal Assistance To Create Agricultural Conservation Easements

Natural Resources Conservation Service map of easements, Dec 2013
A map of existing conservation easements, as of Dec 2013. Map: Natural Resources Conservation Service

Farmers, tribes, local governments, and organizations have less than a month to apply for federal assistance to purchase agricultural easements, a designation used to protect farmland and prevent development.

Federal lawmakers created the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program through the most recent Farm Bill. It essentially consolidates previous programs that encourage landowners to conserve wetland, grassland, and agricultural easements.

Jimmy Bramblett is the state conservationist for USDA’s National Resources Conservation Services, which administers the program. He says it cuts back on administrative costs and will be less confusing for users.

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“Yet at the same time, [it will] accomplish the same objectives out there on the landscape,” he said.

“Through wetlands, protecting threatened and endangered species, restoring wetland hydrology, or for the working lands, taking those lands and keeping them in farming for perpetuity.”

Bramblett says Wisconsin has previously received $3-6 million annually for initial investments. USDA payments for easements vary, but often landowners have to match some of the funding.

Gathering Waters Conservancy is a land trust that can work with landowners to create agricultural easements. External relations director Mike Carlson says matching those funds is costly and has always been a challenge for landowners, especially after the state’s agricultural easement program was defunded in 2011.

“When you look at farm policy—whether it’s at the state level, with the Work Lands Initiative, or the Farm Bill—conservation easements are a tool in the tool box,” he said. “They’re to help landowners, to help communities protect vital, agricultural resources.”

Landowners have until June 6 to apply for the federal program.