Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon's northeastern corner, is North America's largest remaining grassland of its type.
Zumwalt Prairie Preserve Zumwalt Prairie in Oregon's northeastern corner, is North America's largest remaining grassland of its type. © Rick McEwan

Food & Water Stories

Farm Bill Easement Programs

Protecting U.S Farms, Ranches and Wetlands Through Easement Programs

Conservation programs in the Farm Bill play a crucial role protecting and supporting farms, ranches and wetlands with benefits to people and nature reaching far and wide across America.

Conservation easements benefit not just the landowners, but neighbors, communities and industries. They help protect our nation’s irreplaceable water resources, natural areas, wildlife habitats, agricultural lands, historic sites and scenic areas.

Funding to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) in the Farm Bill must be restored to ensure these benefits continue for generations to come.

Easements as a conservation tool

Conservation easements are one of the most powerful and effective tools available for the permanent conservation of private lands in the U.S. They are voluntary, legally binding agreements that limit certain types of uses or prevent development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future, protecting the property’s ecological and open space values.

For more than 40 years, agricultural easements have protected wildlife habitat and open space from development, kept land in private hands and generated significant benefits for the public.

The Nature Conservancy’s Mississippi state program, for example, is on the cusp of a significant floodplain restoration project protecting nearly 6,000 acres through agricultural wetland easements at Loch Leven in Wilkinson County. An existing ring levee will be enhanced to reconnect the Mississippi River with its historic floodplain, benefiting critical wetland habitat and surrounding communities.

How ACEP works

ACEP includes two vital components: Agricultural Land Easements and Wetlands Reserve Easements.

Agricultural Land Easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. Land protected by Agricultural Land Easements provides additional public benefits, including environmental quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and the protection of open space.

Wetlands Reserve Easements provide habitat for fish and wildlife, including many endangered species. They also improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reducing flooding, recharging groundwater, protecting biological diversity and providing opportunities for educational, scientific and recreational activities.

In 2008, funding for conservation easement programs in the Farm Bill was at $770 million. Today, funding has been stepped down to a mere $250 million. The Nature Conservancy is fighting to restore funding for easement programs like ACEP to conserve land, water and the quality of life for millions of Americans.

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