Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that applications are now being accepted for new, landmark conservation initiatives created by the 2014 Farm Bill. The programs will provide up to $386 million to help farmers restore wetlands, protect working agriculture lands, support outdoor recreation activities and boost the economy.
Vilsack made the announcement at Kuhn Orchards in Orrtanna, Pennsylvania. The farm's owners participate in the USDA Conservation Stewardship Program, have worked to encourage pollinator health through planting practices, and used USDA program support to construct a high tunnel.
"By protecting working lands and wetlands, we're able to strengthen agricultural operations, sustain the nation's food supply and protect habitat for a variety of wildlife," Vilsack said. "In addition, we're providing states and Tribal governments a tool to expand access to private lands for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities, which helps boost wildlife-related businesses and grow the economy."
USDA's conservation efforts have helped mitigate the negative impacts of drought and are helping producers to manage the effects of climate change. USDA has enrolled a record number of acres in conservation programs that have saved millions of tons of soil and improved water quality and have contributed to the national effort to preserve habitat for wildlife and protect the most sensitive ecological areas. USDA has partnered with more than 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners on these conservation projects since 2009-a record number.
In addition to protecting cropland and critical habitats, conservation strengthens outdoor recreation and helps boost the economy. According to the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, annual U.S. conservation spending totals $38.8 billion, but it produces $93.2 billion of economic output throughout the economy - 2.4 times more than what is put in. This output takes the form of more than 660,500 jobs, $41.6 billion in income and a $59.7 billion contribution to national Gross Domestic Product.
The new programs announced today are the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). Applications for ACEP funding consideration in fiscal year 2014 must be submitted by the individual state deadline or June 6, 2014, whichever is earlier. Applications and state deadline information can be obtained at your local USDA Service Center or at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted. Applications for VPA-HIP are due by June 16 and should be completed at Grants.gov. For more information, view the notice on Grants.gov or the program's website.
Through the 2014 Farm Bill's new conservation programs, USDA is making available up to $366 million for conservation easements under ACEP to state and local governments, Indian tribes, non-governmental organizations and private landowners. ACEP consolidates three former easement programs--the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program--into one to make conservation efforts more efficient while strengthening tools to protect land and water.
VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and Tribal governments to increase opportunities for owners and managers of private lands who want to make their land available for public recreation. Up to $20 million is available this year for VPA-HIP. Both programs have application deadlines later this spring.
Funding for the ACEP and VPA-HIP programs is provided through the 2014 Farm Bill, which authorizes services and programs that impact every American and millions of people around the world. The new Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Vilsack said that quickly and effectively implementing new programs and reforms to existing ones called for by the 2014 Farm Bill is a top priority for USDA. Learn more about the Farm Bill at www.nrcs.usda.gov/FarmBill.
More information on the new conservation programs announced today are below.
Agricultural Conservation Easements Program
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the two components of ACEP, one for agricultural land easements and one for wetland reserve easements.
Under the agricultural land component, funds are provided to eligible entities that can use ACEP funding to purchase agricultural land easements that protect the agricultural use and conservation values of eligible land.
Eligible lands for agricultural land component include cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland and nonindustrial private forest land. Application priority will be given to proposals preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses and maximizing the protection of land devoted to growing the nation's food supply.
Under the wetland reserve component, funding is provided to landowners for the purchase of an easement and for restoration funds to restore and enhance wetlands, improving habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. Lands that are eligible for a wetland reserve easement include farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored. Applications also will be prioritized based on the easement's potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife.
Both programs have application deadlines in early June for fiscal year 2014 funding. More information can be obtained at your local USDA Service Center or at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted.
Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program
Recipients of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program can use the grant funding to create new or expand existing public access programs. These programs provide financial incentives or technical assistance, such as rental payments or wildlife habitat planning services, to owners and managers who allow public access.
Funding priority will be given to applications that propose to:
Maximize private lands acreage available to the public;
Ensure that land enrolled in the program has appropriate wildlife habitat;
Strengthen wildlife habitat improvement efforts;
Supplement funding and services from other federal or state agencies, tribes or private resources; and
Provide information to the public about the location of public access land.
Applications for VPA-HIP are due by June 16 and should be completed at Grants.gov. For more information, view the notice on Grants.gov or the program's website.