Spanberger Leads Roundtable Discussion on USDA Conservation Easements, Hears from Acting NRCS Associate Chief Norton

As Chair of the Conservation & Forestry Subcommittee, the Congresswoman is Committed to Gathering Feedback about Working Lands Programs Like ACEP

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger today led a roundtable discussion about federal efforts to protect and restore farmland and wetlands through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

During the meeting, Spanberger and a bipartisan group of her colleagues heard from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Acting Associate Chief Kevin Norton about the management of ACEP and how NRCS can improve its financial and technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, non-profit organizations, and local governments. Additionally, Spanberger— who serves as Chair of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry—asked Norton about recent changes to ACEP in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“For decades, farmers and ranchers have participated in programs that have contributed to successful conservation initiatives in Central Virginia and across the country. ACEP is a prime example of how these voluntary programs can protect landscapes and wildlife, keep our farms financially afloat, and ensure environmental benefits,” said Spanberger. “Today’s roundtable was an opportunity to review how we can improve ACEP’s flexibility. As we continue to monitor Farm Bill implementation, it’s important to gather as much feedback as possible from farmers in the field, especially as we’re gauging the impacts of changes to ACEP—such as in matching fund provisions and revisions to land easement plans. Our country’s farmers deserve the flexibility they need to determine their own conservation management programs, and I look forward to working with the USDA, Ranking Member LaMalfa, and others as we continue to encourage responsible stewardship across the farm economy.”

Through ACEP, NRCS provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve American farmland, forest land, grassland, and wetlands. Additionally, the program looks for additional ways to strengthen the environmental and economic benefits of easements by acquiring conservation easements on private lands. According to USDA, NRCS has worked with landowners to protect more than 4.4 million acres of agricultural lands and wetlands over the past 25 years.

Today’s discussion also included representatives from the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, Ducks Unlimited, and the American Farmland Trust.

Last month, Spanberger led her first hearing as Chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee. In her opening statement, she highlighted the history of federal conservation programs and how sustainable agriculture practices can help address current challenges related to declining farm income, extreme weather, and climate change. Click here to watch the full hearing, and click here to watch Spanberger’s opening statement.

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