DAVIS, Calif., Jan. 19, 2017 – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California successfully finalized 18 new easements in 2016 protecting a total of 10,758 acres of farmland, ranchland, and wetland throughout the state. These voluntary easements were funded with a combination of partner investments and NRCS easement programs dollars.

“NRCS conservation easements provide landowners with opportunities to protect working agricultural lands and to restore degraded wetlands,” said Dean Kwasny, NRCS easement program specialist in California. “Many of our easements preserve habitat for at-risk fish and wildlife, such as sage grouse, while keeping the land in private ownership. These are voluntary decisions by private landowners to protect California’s agriculture and the environment.”

One easement, on 2,036 acres of rangeland in Mono County, was the last California Grassland Reserve Program easement through the 2008 Farm Bill and focuses on protecting Greater Sage Grouse habitat. The remaining 17 projects were funded through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) under the 2014 Farm Bill that provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands and their related benefits.

“Fourteen of the completed projects are wetland easements on 3,893 acres, including three easements that protect vernal pools in Madera, Merced, and San Joaquin counties,” Kwasny said. “The vernal pools and associated grasslands will forever be protected and will continue to be grazed by livestock under a cooperative grazing plan between NRCS and the landowners.”

Three agricultural land easements on 4,829 acres were purchased with assistance from local and regional land trusts and conservation partners:

  • Jordan Ranch in Santa Barbara County, where 780 acres of cropland is protected through a partnership with NRCS, Trust for Public Land, Land Trust of Santa Barbara County, and Vandenberg Air Force Base. The easement protects prime farmland, riparian habitat along the Santa Inez River, and buffers the base from urban encroachment.
  • Keegan and Epperson Ranches in Colusa County, where easements on two adjoining ranches protect 4,049 acres of unique serpentine soils, vernal pool rangelands, and wildflowers through a partnership with NRCS, California Rangeland Trust and the Wildlife Conservation Board.

Agricultural producers interested in protecting cropland and rangeland, and restoring wetlands should contact their local NRCS field office or visit the California NRCS website for more information.