One of the nation’s leading conservation groups, the Land Trust Alliance, praised the U.S. House of Representatives today for approving a Farm Bill conference report, 251-166, that will provide more than $1 billion for a new consolidated conservation program to save working farm and ranch lands over the next five years. The Senate is expected to approve the bill as soon as next week.
“This funding is a great investment for future generations of farmers, ranchers and all Americans. It will enable the purchase of perpetual conservation easements from landowners who are willing to restrict their land development and help secure food and fiber, clean water, wildlife habitat, and our rural heritage,” said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, which represents 1,700 nonprofit land trusts that protect 47 million acres of farms, ranches, forests, wildlife habitat, and other open spaces.
The $1 billion in funding will go the new Agricultural Lands Easement (ALE) program, which consolidates the former Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) into a single program. FRPP and GRP have conserved more than one million acres of economically and environmentally important agricultural lands, but applications for FRPP and GRP have far exceeded the available funding.
Each year, an estimated two million acres of America’s farms, ranches, forests, wildlife habitat, and other open spaces are fragmented into smaller parcels or lost to development, according to the President’s 2013 Annual Economic Report to Congress.
The Land Trust Alliance worked with Senate and House leaders, including Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), to secure a provision that allows the Agriculture Secretary to waive a local cash-match requirement of 25 percent.
“Many areas across the country don’t have any reliable sources of matching funds, and rural counties may not have the tax base to create one,” said Russ Shay, director of policy for the Land Trust Alliance. “Allowing the Agriculture Secretary to waive the cash match requirement in special circumstances will provide the Secretary flexibility to target easements in important places where they are needed, but would not happen without the waiver.”
“Selling development rights on the original homestead farm that has been in my family since the 1890s would help us to pass it on to my son who is now a 5th generation cherry farmer,” said Rob Manigold, who as Supervisor of Old Mission Peninsula Township in Michigan for 25 years, led its successful farmland preservation efforts that included permanently protecting 5,000 acres of farmland. “This new Farm Bill would allow our community to build upon our past successes with new dollars and increased flexibility due to the cash match waiver provision. Agriculture is such an important economic driver for our region and state – why wouldn’t we invest in protecting a land base like ours that is so unique?”
About Land Trust Alliance
The Land Trust Alliance is a national conservation group that works on behalf of the nation’s 1,700 land trusts to save the places people love by strengthening conservation nationwide. The Alliance works to increase the pace and quality of conservation by advocating favorable tax policies and training land trusts in best practices, and working to ensure the permanence of conservation in the face of continuing threats. Details at: www.lta.org/policy.
–Press release via Land Trust Alliance