Federal money available for grassland conservation program | CraigDailyPress.com

Federal money available for grassland conservation program

Christina M. Currie

The federal government is offering landowners who want to reap the benefits of a conservation easement an option to do so without the long-term commitment.

The 2002 Farm Bill amended the 1985 Food Security Act to make money available for the Grassland Reserve Program — a land conservation program with several options including permanent easements, 30-year easements or 10- to 30-year rental and restoration agreements.

The Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) is a voluntary program that helps landowners and operators restore and protect grassland, including rangeland and pastureland, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands.

The program emphasizes support for grazing operations, plant and animal biodiversity and grassland and land containing shrubs and forbs under the greatest threat of conversion.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, restoring and protecting grasslands contributes positively to the economy of many regions, provides biodiversity of plant and animal populations and improves environmental quality.

For permanent easements, the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes a payment based on the fair market value of the property less the grazing value.

For 30-year easements, USDA pays 30 percent of what would be paid for a permanent easement. On rental agreements, USDA pays 75 percent of the grazing value in annual payments for the length of the agreement. Easement payments may be made in one lump sum or annually, in equal or unequal amounts, for up to 10 years.

For all the programs, USDA pays all administrative costs associated with recording the easement, including appraisal fees, survey costs, title insurance and recording fees.

GRP participants voluntarily limit future use of the land while retaining the right to conduct common grazing practices, produce hay, mow or harvest seed for production.

Craig area Farm Service Agency representative Pat Moralez said that because this is a new program, she has no idea what to expect in terms of participation.

“This is the first year the program has had funding, so I have no idea what kind of participation we’re going to get,” she said.

Applications were made available June 30, but Moralez said her office has not received any, so she’s not even sure what the application process is like.

Applications will be accepted on a continuous basis at USDA service centers.

Once funding has been exhausted, eligible applications will remain on file until additional funding becomes available. Nearly $50 million is available for 2003.

Landowners who can provide clear title are eligible to participate. Landowners who have general control of the acreage may submit an application for a

rental agreement.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service has several other programs that put land into conservation status, though these programs don’t necessarily keep land out of use forever.

Some of these programs include:

  • Conservation Reserve Program: This program retires marginal crops and pastureland from use. Producers are paid rental payments for 10

to 15 years.

  • Continuous Conservation Reserve Program: This program, which targets high-priority conservation projects, also makes rental payments for land taken out

of production.

  • Farm and Ranch Preservation Program: Through this program a landowner agrees to not covert agricultural land to non-agricultural uses in exchange for an easement that can range from 30 years to forever. The landowner does get money in exchange for this agreement.
  • Wetlands Reserve Program: Landowners are offered technical and financial assistance in exchange for an agreement to take agricultural land out of production. The landowner must agree to a 30-year to a perpetual easement.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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