U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting public comments on its interim final rule for the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), designed to help producers protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated three previous conservation easement programs into ACEP to make it easier for diverse agricultural landowners to fully benefit from conservation initiatives.
“Since 2009, USDA has worked with producers and private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs. This interim final rule takes into account recommendations from agricultural landowners and conservation stakeholders about how to better streamline and enhance conservation easement processes,” Vilsack said.
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers ACEP, a voluntary program created in the 2014 Farm bill to protect and restore critical wetlands on private and tribal lands through the wetland reserve easement component. ACEP also encourages farmers, ranchers and non-industrial private forest landowners to keep their private and tribal land in agricultural use through the agricultural land easement component. ACEP also conserves grasslands, including rangeland, pastureland and shrubland.
ACEP’s agricultural land easement component offers many benefits to landowners and citizens. The easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Other benefits include environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space.
The official notice of the proposed ACEP interim final rule can be found in the Federal Register. Electronic comments during the 60-day comment period must be submitted through regulations.gov. Comments also can be hand carried or mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0011, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-1112D, Beltsville, MD 20705.