Rural Americans have always had a strong connection to the land. Since 2009 alone, more than 500,000 farmers, ranchers and rural land owners across the country have embarked on record conservation projects with USDA as a partner. This week, USDA built on those efforts by announcing two new conservation programs that provide producers with even stronger tools to protect land and water resources across rural America.
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) were both established under the 2014 Farm Bill. ACEP, which streamlines several existing USDA easement programs, makes available $366 million per year to a variety of public and private partners for conservation easements. The easements provided through ACEP help ensure the long-term viability of our food supply by preventing conversion of productive lands to non-agricultural use, while simultaneously protecting critical wetland resources.
VPA-HIP provides up to $20 million per year in competitive grants to support owners and managers of private lands who want to make their land available to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities. Expanded access to private lands provides an additional revenue source for farmers and ranchers and encourages good stewardship of the land.
ACEP and VPA-HIP enhance the conservation practices farmers and ranchers have already implemented on their operations. Their efforts have already saved millions of tons of soil, improved water quality, preserved critical wildlife habitat, and helped to protect some of our nation’s most sensitive ecological areas.
While critically important, strong conservation practices protect more than just cropland and critical habitats—they can also help to boost the bottom line for rural communities. A 2013 study commissioned the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation estimates that every $1 spent on conservation programs in the U.S. yields $2.40 in economic activity by supporting outdoor recreation activities and related businesses. Last year, conservation activities supported more than 660,000 jobs.
The new farm bill provides landmark support for conservation, which will further invest in both rural land and rural economies. In the coming weeks and months, USDA will continue to implement key conservation provisions included in the 2014 Farm Bill. You can track our progress and learn more about how the new farm bill impacts you at www.usda.gov/farmbill, or visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted for more information about ACEP and VPA-HIP.