Final ACEP rule released
On Feb. 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final rule for it’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), aimed to protect farmlands, grasslands and wetlands through conservation easements.
This rule updates the ACEP, as provided by the 2018 Farm Bill and takes 570 public comments made on an interim rule into account. Updates directly to the ACEP include revised definitions for beginning farmers and ranchers, eligible land, farm or ranch succession planning, future viability and maintenance to provide clarity regarding succession planning.
“Conservation easements are a critical conservation tool helping landowners sustain Wyoming’s vital working landscapes and wetland ecosystems,” said Wyoming State Conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Astrid Martinez. “These minor updates to the ACEP final rule are intended to improve processes that will help strengthen the impacts of our investments and continue to elevate protection of ecologically important lands in Wyoming through voluntary conservation.”
The rule includes agricultural land easements (ALE) which help state and local governments, non-governmental organizations and Native American tribes with farmland or grassland protection programs to purchase conservation easements from eligible landowners. ACEP also covers wetland reserve easements (WLE) to assist landowners in restoring and protecting wetlands in agricultural lands, which provide increased wildlife habitat, improved water quality, reduced impacts from flooding, groundwater recharge and outdoor recreation and education opportunities, according to NRCS.
Updates to the final ACEP rule for ALEs will protect the nation’s food supply by preventing farming and ranching lands to non-agricultural uses, according to NRCS.
One update to the ALE is the increased priority into the ACEP ALE ranking for lands enrolled in the Transition Incentives Program (TIP) under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The final rule also clarifies cost-match requirements from non-federal sources and added new types of cost under the non-federal code.
NCRS also modified deed requirements to clarify which changes to the easement deed or land must be pre-approved by the NRCS.
Another regulatory update includes changing language, which describes the inspection authority to be more similar to the right of enforcement language used in ACEP ALE easements. This update means the easement holder and the landowner are notified in advance of the inspection and have opportunity to participate in the inspection.
The minimum and maximum durations for ACEP ALE agreements were also revised.
Minor updates were made to the ACEP Wetland Reserve Easements in the final rule. Lands enrolled in the TIP under the CRP, which are farmed and contain wetlands, as well as adjoining land with wetland features and functions have increased priority in ranking criteria. This also holds true if land is likely to return to production after leaving the CRP.
Information for this article was sourced from the Natural Resource Conservation Service website and the final rule found in the Federal Register.
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.