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NRCS celebrates 5 million acres enrolled in conservation easements


Last updated 4/14/2021 at 7:58am

From Natural Resources Conservation Service

BOZEMAN — Natural Resources Conservation Service and private landowners have partnered to protect more than 5 million acres of wetlands, grasslands and prime farmlands — an area the size of New Jersey.

In Montana, NRCS enrolled 282,091 acres, helping achieve this important conservation milestone.

“The nation’s farmers, ranchers and private landowners are critical to conserving our nation’s natural resources for future generations,” said Tom Watson, NRCS state conservationist in Montana. “We want to celebrate their efforts focused on protecting sensitive lands, supporting wildlife, and confronting challenges like climate change.”

NRCS has offered conservation easements through the Farm Bill for 28 years with programs like Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which helps landowners, land trusts and other entities protect, restore, and enhance wetlands, grasslands, and working farms and ranches. These programs benefit participants and the American public by creating cleaner air and water, protecting open spaces, and keeping working lands in agriculture.


Wetland easements

  Wetland easements — totaling more than 2.8 million acres nationwide and 30,784 acres in Montana — improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reducing flooding, recharging groundwater, protecting biological diversity and providing opportunities for educational, scientific and limited recreational activities.

Wetland easements are also crucial to wildlife, and are credited for the recovery of the Louisiana black bear in 2019 and the Oregon chub in 2015. Whooping cranes rely on wetland easements on their cross-country treks and for raising young. Also, Montana’s sagebrush country is an oasis for wildlife like sage grouse, pronghorn, and songbirds.


Agricultural land easements

Agricultural land easements protect the long-term viability of the nation’s food supply by preventing conversion of productive working lands to non-agricultural uses. In Montana, these agricultural land easements have been crucial to protecting rangelands and farmsteads from urban encroachment, ensuring the most productive lands remain working lands. Easements also can be used to protect floodplains, grasslands and forests, providing public benefits, including carbon sequestration, water quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and protection of open space. Easements have contributed to the restoration of the Southeast’s unique, but rare, longleaf pine forests, and to the protection of animals like the greater sage-grouse.

Agricultural land easements, including grassland easements, total more than 1.9 million acres nationwide and 251,307 acres in Montana.


Carbon sequestration and easements

Working with private landowners to preserve and restore wetlands, grasslands, forests and farmlands is integral to USDA’s efforts to build resiliency and reduce the impacts of climate change across the nation. Easements protect sensitive lands from development in perpetuity, and landowners can partner with NRCS to implement voluntary climate-smart management practices that maximize the amount of carbon sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in soils or plant biomass across these landscapes.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is engaged in a whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis and conserve and protect our nation’s lands, biodiversity and natural resources including our soil, air and water. Through conservation practices and partnerships, USDA aims to enhance economic growth and create new income streams for farmers, ranchers, producers and private foresters. Successfully meeting these challenges will require USDA to pursue a coordinated approach alongside stakeholders, including State, local and Tribal governments.


Enroll in easements

People can learn more about conservation easements in Montana at http://www.mt.nrcs.usda.gov . People will find information about how to apply for wetland reserve easements and agricultural land easements. Interested landowners may also contact their local USDA Service Center. Find contact information at https://www.farmers.gov/contact .

While USDA offices are closed to visitors because of the pandemic, Service Center staff continue to work with agricultural producers via phone, email, and other digital tools. Additionally, more information related to USDA’s response and relief for producers can be found at http://farmers.gov/coronavirus . 


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