USDA Offers Conservation Help to Landowners to Protect Wetlands, Agricultural Lands, Grasslands

The USDA’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is offering conservation easements. (ACEP Submitted photo)

The farmers and private landowners of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are encouraged to apply by March 26 for conservation easements to protect and restore agricultural working lands and wetlands through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program.

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and a government or non-government entity that creates a protection on a property in order to preserve its natural character and agricultural potential by limiting the amount and kind of development that can occur. The agreement enables users to achieve specific conservation objectives on the land while keeping the land in the ownership and control of landowners for uses consistent with the conservation objectives of the easement.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is accepting Agricultural Conservation Easement Program applications at local USDA Service Centers island-wide. Currently 1,236 acres are enrolled under USDA conservation easement programs in the Caribbean Area, creating crucial habitat for migratory birds.

“For more than 25 years, NRCS has worked with landowners to protect their wetlands and agricultural lands,” NRCS Caribbean Area Director Luis Cruz-Arroyo said. “Conservation easements are important tools for people who are trying to improve soil health, water and air quality, and wildlife habitat on their land.”

Wetland Easements

Through the ACEP wetland component, Wetland Reserve Easements, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Indian tribes to restore, protect and enhance wetlands through easements. NRCS will enroll eligible land through permanent easements, 30-year easements, term easements or 30-year contracts.

For wetland easements, NRCS pays all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office, including recording fees, charges for abstracts, survey and appraisal fees, and title insurance.

Agricultural Land Easements

NRCS also provides financial assistance to eligible entities for acquiring Agricultural Land Easements to protect the agricultural land use and conservation values of eligible land. The program helps farmers keep their land in agricultural production. ACEP Agricultural Land Easements also protect grazing land uses by conserving grasslands and pastures.

Eligible cooperating entities include state or local agencies, non-profits and tribes. Landowners keep ownership of their property while voluntarily entering into a legal agreement with a cooperating entity to enroll an easement.

The cooperating entity applies for matching funds from NRCS for the acquisition of an easement from the landowner, permanently protecting its agricultural use and conservation values. Landowners will not apply directly to NRCS for funding under the land easements.

For additional information about Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, contact Assistant State Conservationist for Programs Javier Cruz, at Javier.Cruz@usda.gov / 787-281-4962 or 787-370-2703. Or contact NRCS Caribbean Area Director Luis Cruz-Arroyo at Luis.Cruz-Arroyo@usda.gov /787-281-4836 or 787-405-7368.

Due to the current COVID-19 emergency, all USDA Service Centers are open for business by phone or virtual appointment only, and field work continues with appropriate social distancing protocols. While program delivery staff continue to come into the office, they will be working with producers by phone and using online tools whenever possible.

All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with NRCS, Farm Service Agency or any other Service Center agency are required to call their Service Center to schedule an appointment. More information can be found at https://farmers.gov/coronavirus.