Funding available to protect wetlands, family farms
ANNAPOLIS — Farmers looking for funds to protect their agricultural assets and provide for the wildlife habitat surrounding them may find relief in funding available from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conser vation Ser vice — now accepting applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program.
State and local governments, non-governmental organizations and private landowners who are interested in protecting and enhancing land through an agricultural or wetland easement are encouraged to contact their local NRCS office to find out how to apply.
In Maryland, $1.8 million is available for wetland easements and restoration. ACEP applications may be submitted at any time to NRCS; however, applications for the current funding round must be submitted on or before Jan. 17. Applications are available at local USDA Service Centers and at www.md.nrcs. usda.gov.
“Conservation easements help farmers protect valuable agricultural lands from development or protect and restore previously drained wetlands to their natural conditions,” NRCS Maryland easement program manager M. Tiffany Davis said. “These easements are improving wildlife habitat and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.”
An additional $131,000 is available for protecting and restoring habitat for bog turtles, which is federally listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Bog turtles depend upon a habitat mosaic of open, sunny, spring fed wetlands and scattered dry areas, and private landowners control the majority of bog turtle habitat remaining in the northeast.
Last year, NRCS invested more than $2.5 million in Mar yland through ACEP. The nine projects selected protect 360 acres of prime farmland and restore more than 300 acres of sensitive wetlands across the state.
Agricultural easements prevent productive working lands from being converted to nonagricultural uses and maximize protection of land devoted to food production. Cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland and nonindustrial private forestland are eligible.
Wetland reserve easements restore and enhance wetlands and improve habitat. Eligible lands include farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored.
ACEP combines NRCS’ former Farm and Ranch Lands Protection, Grassland Reserve and Wetlands Reserve programs.