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Kansas NRCS receives $3.8 million to protect and enhance agricultural and wetland easements

Eric B. Banks, Kansas State Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced that $3.8 million in conservation funding has been allocated in Kansas to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands, and wetlands.  This announcement follows Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s statement that $328 million is being invested nationally for this USDA initiative.

“Through conservation easements, farmers will be better able to protect valuable agricultural lands from development, restore lands best suited for grazing, and return wetlands to their natural conditions,” said Banks.  “Conservation easements are making a dramatic and positive impact for food supply, rural communities, and species habitat.”

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.  According to Banks, approximately 18 projects statewide were selected to protect and restore 4,800 acres of prime farmland, grassland, and wetlands.

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.

♦ Provide and protect habitat for threatened, endangered, and at-risk species including the lesser prairie-chicken and whooping crane.

♦ Protect prime agricultural lands that are being fragmented and under high risk of development to non-agricultural uses 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, Grassland 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 USDA’s 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,” Banks said.  Find more information on ACEP here.  To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or local USDA service center.