NRCS Invests in Climate-Smart Conservation Easements in 22 States, Including Montana and South Dakota

by Grace McDonald

WASHINGTON– The U.S. Department of Agriculture will invest about $138 million of financial assistance from President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act—the largest climate investment in history—in 138 new climate-smart conservation easements, through which farmers and ranchers are conserving wetlands, grasslands and prime farmlands. These selected Agricultural Conservation Easement Program projects are part of a broad investment in climate-smart agriculture and forestry as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. This year, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service expanded priorities to enable more producers to adopt climate-smart systems, as well as streamline ACEP to speed up assistance for producers. In addition to the climate-change mitigation benefits, ACEP helps safeguard the future of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural communities who depend on and sustain the land as a way of life, especially under a changing climate.

“President Biden’s historic Inflation Reduction Act is enabling us to get a record amount of conservation on the ground, including through conservation easements, which give farmers and ranchers the tools they need to protect sensitive landscapes, like wetlands and grasslands, as well as prime farmland,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While we welcome these new easements, we have also made improvements to the program to make it work better and faster for agricultural producers and our conservation partners.” 

These investments also support the President’s America the Beautiful initiative, which is supporting voluntary, locally led, producer-driven conservation efforts across the country. 

NRCS offered Inflation Reduction Act funding in both of ACEP’s components: Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) and Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE). For Inflation Reduction Act funding, NRCS prioritized land that will most reduce, capture, avoid or sequester carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide emissions.   

NRCS has selected projects addressing these priorities:  

  • High threat of conversion to a non-grassland use: 18 ACEP-ALE projects in seven states – Arizona, California, Montana, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. 
  • High threat of conversion to a non-agricultural use: 15 ACEP-ALE projects in eight states – Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.  
  • Lands with organic soils and high carbon mineral soils: 26 ACEP-WRE projects in eight states – Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Wisconsin.  
  • Restored native forest habitat: 59 ACEP-WRE projects in eight states – Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri.  
  • Existing native forest habitat: 15 ACEP-WRE projects in six states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi and Missouri.  
  • Restored grassland habitat: 5 ACEP-WRE projects in three states – Indiana, Iowa and Missouri.  

These projects are tentatively selected, meaning that NRCS will work with the project applicants to complete eligibility for enrollment.

ACEP and the Inflation Reduction Act  

A total of $19.5 billion in additional funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, including $1.4 billion for ACEP, is available over several years for climate-smart agriculture and forestry mitigation activities through NRCS conservation programs.  

NRCS began implementing the Inflation Reduction Act in Fiscal Year 2023, which included $2.8 billion in conservation investments, more than any year in the agency’s 89-year history. To strengthen implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, NRCS is streamlining ACEP, to ensure that the program is easier and more convenient to use. Specifically, NRCS is streamlining ACEP appraisals, land surveys and certifying eligible entities who help NRCS and producers enroll land into agricultural land easements. Additionally, NRCS is working with partners like Ducks Unlimited, which hired 10 easement acquisition specialists, to help NRCS to increase capacity and acquire more conservation easements.  



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