SPOKANE A total of $350 million is available to help landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the nation.
Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grant program last Friday.
Funding is provided through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s agricultural conservation easement program. It was created by the 2014 Farm Bill to protect critical water resources and wildlife habitat, and encourage private landowners to maintain land for farming and ranching.
Through the voluntary sale of an easement, landowners limit future development to protect these key resources.
Officials with the federal Department of Agriculture say the easement program protects the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. They say it also supports environmental quality, wildlife habitat, historic preservation and protection of open spaces.
Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations with farmland or grassland protection programs are eligible to purchase conservation easements.
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.
Easement funds are being used to protect agricultural lands that border streams and rivers containing threatened and endangered runs of salmon and steelhead.
Over the past two fiscal years, more than $600 million in funding has helped landowners voluntary protect an estimated 250,000 acres of farmland, grassland, and wetlands through more than 750 new easements.