State Conservationist Jane Hardisty announced today that Indiana’s USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is making funding available to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across Indiana. The funding is provided through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), created by the 2014 Farm Bill to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat, and encourage private owners to maintain land for farming. Eligible entities must submit applications for the current funding pool on or before January 12, 2018.
“I cannot overemphasize the benefits of restoring, enhancing and protecting these working agricultural lands and critical wetlands,” said Hardisty. “NRCS is committed to preserving working agricultural lands to help protect the long-term viability of farming across Indiana as well as to restoring and protecting wetlands that provide important wildlife habitat and improve our water quality.”
ACEP streamlines the conservation easement options into two primary components: a working lands component where NRCS provides assistance to partners with farmland protection programs to purchase agricultural land easements, and a wetlands reserve component where NRCS works directly with landowners to restore and protect their agricultural wetlands.
ACEP’s Agricultural Land Easements (ALE) protects the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses while supporting environmental quality, wildlife habitat, historic preservation and protection of open spaces. State and local governments, non-governmental organizations and Native American Tribes that have farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to partner with NRCS to protect farmland through easements.
Wetland reserve easements (WRE) help landowners reduce damage from flooding, recharge groundwater, restore, enhance and protect habitat for wildlife, and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. Eligible landowners can choose to enroll in a permanent or 30-year easement. Tribal landowners also have the option of enrolling in 30-year contracts.
In Indiana, over 3,250 acres were enrolled in the WRE (formerly the WRP or Wetland Reserve Program) in the last year alone. Once restored, these acres will join over 73,000 acres of additional protected floodplain and wetland easements in the state to protect water quality resources and provide for wildlife. Many of these easements lie in areas critical for migratory waterfowl and other birds, such as the Wabash River, Goose Pond, Kankakee Marsh, and Muscatatuck River Corridor.