Protect wetlands, farms with conservation easements (Keeping the Farm)
(Editor’s note: Genevieve Lister is a state public affairs officer with NRCS-Maryland.)
Endangered by encroaching development and extreme weather events, wetlands are some of our most threatened national land resources.
Productive farmland is also increasingly disappearing due to these, and many other, threats.
Conservation easements can help people protect the land they love while providing important benefits to the community, such as water quality and wildlife habitat.
Easements may enable land to stay in the family, protected as you wish well beyond your lifetime.
The 2018 Farm Bill provided NRCS with technical and financial assistance to help private landowners, land trusts, state and local governments, and other groups protect valuable lands.
Through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, this assistance is used to preserve working farms and restore, protect, and enhance wetlands through long-term easements.
ACEP offers two components.
The Wetland Reserve Easement component provides landowners compensation for enrolling their farmed or converted wetlands in easements and restoring the land in a cost-effective manner.
The Agricultural Land Easement component works with eligible partners to prevent productive working lands from being converted to non-agricultural uses and maximize protection of land devoted to food production.
For landowners with farmed or converted wetlands, the Wetland Reserve Easement component can provide compensation to protect and restore your wetlands in exchange for retiring your eligible land from agriculture.
When you apply for WRE, you have two enrollment options: a permanent easement or a 30-year easement.
An easement is a real estate transaction.
You, the landowner, will continue to control access to the land.
Permanent Easements: This is a conservation easement in perpetuity.
The easement payment will be the lesser of the fair market value of the land determined by a Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice appraisal or area wide market analysis, an established payment cap, or an amount offered by the landowner.
In addition to paying for the easement, USDA pays 100 percent of the costs of restoring the wetland.
30-year Easements: This is a conservation easement lasting 30 years.
Easement payments are 50 percent of what would be paid for a permanent easement. USDA also pays 75 percent of restoration costs.
The landowner retains four basic rights under a WRE easement:
• The right to sell the property and pay taxes. The easement deed transfers with the property;
• The right to private access; no public access is required;
• The right to quiet enjoyment and recreational use including hunting, fishing, trapping, and other quiet recreational uses, including the right to lease out the property for these uses. Game farms are not allowed; and
• The right to subsurface resources provided no drilling or mining takes place within the easement boundaries.
It is important to remember that a WRE is a permanent or long-term commitment that has significant restrictions.
It is important that you completely understand the terms and conditions of the easement.
The enrollment is a complex real estate transaction that can take up to two years for the easement to close. Please take the time to discuss your enrollment with an NRCS representative.
The Agricultural Land Easement component can help farmers keep their land in agricultural.
NRCS does not work directly with landowners for ALE; instead NRCS provides financial assistance to entities that have existing land trust or protection programs.
State, church, hospital, school or local entities with a qualifying farmland protection program can participate.
A qualifying program utilizes voluntary easements or other legal devices to protect productive farmland.
NRCS may contribute up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement to the cooperating entity.
The cooperating entity acquires, manages, and enforces the easement.
NRCS is now accepting applications for both components of the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program.
ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS; however, deadlines for the current funding round are quickly approaching.
Applications in Delaware and Maryland must be submitted on or before March 5. Applications in Virginia must be submitted on or before Feb. 26. Applications are available at a local USDA Service Center and at www.nrcs.usda.gov.