@USDA Invites Input on Agricultural #Conservation Easement Program Rule

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Here’s the release from the NRCS:

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). ACEP is USDA’s premier conservation easement program, helping landowners protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. The rule – now available on the Federal Register – takes effect on publication and includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Through easements, agricultural landowners are protecting agricultural lands from development, restoring grazing lands and returning wetlands to their natural conditions,” NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr said. “The new changes to ACEP under the 2018 Farm Bill make it stronger and more effective and will result in even better protection of our nation’s farmlands, grasslands and wetlands.”

NRCS is investing more than $300 million in conservation easements for fiscal 2020. NRCS state offices will announce signup periods for ACEP in the coming weeks.

Changes to ACEP for agricultural land easements include:

  • Authorizing assistance to partners who pursue “Buy-Protect-Sell” transactions.
  • Requiring a conservation plan for highly erodible land that will be protected by an agricultural land easement.
  • Increasing flexibility for partners to meet cost-share matching requirements.
  • Changes to ACEP for wetland reserve easements include:

  • Identifying water quality as a program purpose for enrollment of wetland reserve easements.
  • Expanding wetland types eligible for restoration and management under wetland reserve easements
  • “Conservation easements have a tremendous footprint in the U.S. with nearly 5 million acres already enrolled. That’s 58,000 square miles,” Lohr said. “This is a great testament to NRCS’s and landowner’s commitment to conservation.”

    Submitting Comments

    NRCS invites comments on this interim rule through March 6 on the Federal Register offsite link image . Electronic comments must be submitted through regulations.gov under Docket ID NRCS-2019-0006. All written comments received will be publicly available on regulations.gov, too.

    NRCS will evaluate public comments to determine whether additional changes are needed. The agency plans on publishing a final rule following public comment review.

    Applying for ACEP

    ACEP aids landowners and eligible entities with conserving, restoring and protecting wetlands, productive agricultural lands and grasslands. NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally.

    For more information on how to sign up for ACEP, visit your state website at nrcs.usda.gov or contact your local NRCS field office.

    Adam Beh named Executive Director of Central #Colorado Conservancy — The Ark Valley Voice

    Adam Beh. Photo credit: Central Colorado Conservancy

    From the Central Colorado Conservancy via The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Adam Beh has joined the Central Colorado Conservancy as its new executive director, bringing more than 20 years of experience in conservation and rural development to the position. He started the job in late October, relocating from northern Colorado where he served as the Chief Conservation Officer for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

    Beh, an active outdoorsman, received his PhD in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University (2010). He says he is always interested in exploring the social dynamics that influence success in landscape-level conservation. With a focus on applied science, land stewardship and community education, he led the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies land stewardship investments in the Intermountain West, including public-private partnerships among federal, state and nonprofit groups.

    He says Central Colorado Conservancy’s focus on community involvement, including the countywide Envision process, was a strong draw in his decision to take the position. The Conservancy’s support of the agricultural community was another key facet in his decision.

    “I wanted to stay focused on true community-based conservation efforts,” said Beh, adding that he is excited at the prospect of exporting the community-driven model to other places. “Not every organization out there has a rural way of life component as a driver.” He points to the Conservancy’s Hands for Lands volunteer program as a good example of reaching out to the rural community and supplying help with labor-intensive tasks such as spring ditch clearing.

    He notes that the Conservancy recently began the important Forever Chaffee project. It includes conservation easements of nearly 2,000 total acres for the Centerville Ranch, the Tri Lazy Ranch property (which connects the Centerville land east to Brown’s Canyon National Monument), and the Arrowpoint Cattle Company, which lies north of the Tri Lazy W.

    Beh plans to continue to grow the Conservancy’s existing programs, including restoration of the Sands Lake Wildlife Area. The project serves to restore Sands Lake to enhance the site for both wildlife and citizens of Colorado, using Natural Resource Damages settlement money from the California Gulch Mining Site. The project collaborates with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Southwest Conservation Corps, with volunteer help from Hands for Lands.

    Based on his work with birds, Beh emphasizes the importance of habitat links across the landscape. “Birds need those spaces – from Canada to Mexico. It makes you think differently.” He sees Central Colorado Conservancy as “a different type of land trust” that brings multiple resources to a property to enhance habitat, water quality and other factors that support the long-term health and beauty of the space.

    He can be reached at adam@centralcoloradoconservancy.org.

    @USBR uses #RioGrande high streamflow this year to expand Silvery minnow habitat

    Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

    This year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided to take advantage of high water levels from a strong spring runoff and create more habitat for the fish on the Middle Rio Grande.

    Doris Rhodes owns 629 acres near San Antonio in Socorro County, and for years she has been advocating for her property to host a Reclamation silvery minnow project. Earlier this year, her work paid off.

    Rhodes’ land is nestled on the Rio Grande near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, making it an ideal location for restoration and conservation, according to Reclamation project manager Ashlee Rudolph.

    Reclamation crews worked from January to March of this year to lower and widen the riverbank on the southern end of the property. They excavated 46,000 cubic yards of dirt to create water channels where minnows could escape the fast-moving river.

    “What makes this project great is that it is a partnership between a private landowner who wanted to create habitat on her land and the federal and state agencies,” Rudolph said. “It is so rare to have that partnership.”

    Slowing the river flow

    Reclamation worked with the private non-profit Save Our Bosque Task Force, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Mexico Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to excavate zigzag patterns on nearly a mile of the river.

    The Rhodes property is one of few remaining historic wetlands in the San Acacia Reach of the Rio Grande, a primary habitat for silvery minnow.

    The property has no levees on the east side of the river, which has helped in the restoration of the area’s natural floodplain, according to Reclamation Albuquerque Area public affairs specialist Mary Carlson.

    Chris Torres, who oversees river maintenance operations on the Middle Rio Grande for the Reclamation Albuquerque Area Office, said the slow-moving side channels are critical for minnow-spawning.

    “Minnows like that edge habitat. It’s worked perfectly,” Torres said. “The water is backing the way it’s supposed to, and we can see fish moving down through there. As the water drops, everything returns back to the main river like it’s supposed to.”

    Rudolph said that since 2016, there have been at least eight silvery minnow habitats constructed in the San Acacia Reach of the river. Reclamation is joined by the Interstate Stream Commission to create these sites and monitor the fish populations.

    The new channels don’t just provide habitat for the small fish, which was listed on the federal endangered species list in 1994. Birds, deer and other wildlife are also drawn to the lowered riverbank…

    Torres said the crews left native cottonwoods intact and planted New Mexico olive trees. Crews also completed the project quickly so as not to disturb the federally-endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.

    Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)

    “Normally we would go through and just clear-cut everything for excavation purposes, but for this project we elected to leave the islands and leave as much of the native vegetation as we could,” Torres said…

    The property has flooded at least four times since 2006 – which Rhodes says is a good thing.

    “The Rhodes Property is a release valve,” she said. “When the river’s running high, water will come on to the property. It protects farmers to the north and south and also protects Bosque del Apache.”

    She said that, after the minnow project is complete, her next step will likely be more removal of the invasive salt cedar and planting of native plant species.

    “The more conservation that happens down here,” Rhodes said, “the more I’m convinced that this property is on the right path.”

    Conservation easement enables former ranch manager to purchase former Pearce ranch on White River — @GreatOutdoorsCO

    Lex Collins purchased the Pearce Ranch, now known as the E Lazy S Ranch, with the help of a conservation easement. The easement permanently protects the ranch’s unique habitat and wildlife. Courtesy photo via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

    From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

    Anyone who has talked to Lex Collins knows how much the E Lazy S Ranch means to him. For years Collins stewarded its landscape with former landowners, Tom and Ruth Pearce, and their daughter Denise. The ranch’s productive hayfields combined with spectacular scenery and a mile of White River frontage make it easy to see why Collins cares so deeply about this landscape. As of July 25, 2019, with leadership from Collins and in partnership with Hal and Christine Pearce and multiple conservation organizations, the E Lazy S Ranch was permanently conserved, ensuring that it will remain undeveloped forever.

    Sandwiched among three existing conserved ranches, the E Lazy S Ranch was one of the largest remaining unprotected properties along the White River in an area known as Agency Park. Conservation of the ranch conserved 562 additional acres and tied together a 4,492-acre block of conserved land in the heart of the valley. The landscape is highly visible from County Road 8, also known as the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, and makes up a portion of the view shed for travelers on State Highway 13.

    The ranch’s meadows and forests provide crucial habitat for local elk and mule deer herds for which northwest Colorado is renowned, as well as coyote, bald eagle, greater sandhill crane and numerous small mammals. The riparian areas along the property contain a box elder-narrowleaf cottonwood/red osier dogwood forest—a forest type unique to the Yampa and White River basins of northwest Colorado.

    While the E Lazy S boasts spectacular conservation values, its story of ownership and generational transfer make it unique. Formerly known as the Pearce Ranch, the E Lazy S Ranch was owned by Tom and Ruth Pearce who purchased the ranch in 1961. Tom and Ruth ran a successful agricultural operation and were honored as the commercial breeders of the year by the Colorado Hereford Association in 1987. For many years, Lex Collins managed the ranch with Tom, Ruth and their daughter Denise. In 2014, after both Tom and Ruth had passed, the ranch was left to their three children: Denise, Hal, and Christine. Tragically, Denise passed away in 2015, but not before leaving her share of the ranch to Collins. It was the goal of Hal and Christine to honor the legacy of their family by keeping the ranch intact as an agricultural entity, and they were able to work together with Collins to develop a plan to allow him to become the sole owner of the ranch, using a conservation easement as the primary mechanism to generate revenue.

    “I’m trying to carry on what Denise Pearce invested her life in: the Pearce Ranch. The conservation easement is the only way that is possible. I thank everyone involved for enabling this ranch to continue forward with its true heritage,” Collins said when asked about the conservation project. Now that the E Lazy S ranch is conserved, he plans to continue to raise cattle and hay on the property, and eventually his daughter, Macy, plans to take over the agricultural operation.

    “GOCO is proud to partner in this project, helping to conserve forever a ranch that contributes to a large block of conserved ranchland in the area, which is important wildlife habitat, and which also protects amazing, wide open views for those traveling along the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, and State Highway 13,” said GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian. “Our sincere thanks to all who made it possible, especially Lex Collins and the Pearce family.”

    Conservation of the ranch was also supported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). “Conserving working agricultural lands is one of the NRCS’s highest priorities,” said Clint Evans, NRCS Colorado State Conservationist. “The Agency’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program provides the much needed opportunities to forge and maintain valuable partnerships between organizations and landowners that make it easier for NRCS to help people help the land.” The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited were also important partners for the project, providing funding to help offset the transaction costs.

    “Few people have the opportunity to leave a perpetual legacy,” said CCALT’s Molly Fales, “but that is what Mr. Collins has done here. By conserving the E Lazy S Ranch, he has ensured that the Pearce family’s ranching legacy will remain, and he has cemented his own conservation legacy in the valley.”

    Hal Pearce echoed these sentiments saying: “It may no longer have the Pearce name attached to it, but it’s still home. In the end it’s about the land and is really bigger than any of us.”

    More GOCO news:

    Pearce Ranch Conservation Legacy, $420,000 grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust

    GOCO will help CCALT acquire a conservation easement on the two parcels making up the Pearce Ranch, totaling 620 acres. Proceeds from the easement will enable the ranch’s long-time manager to purchase the property. Conserving the property will continue its ranching legacy, in addition to protecting wildlife habitat and water rights benefiting all of the properties in the Highland Ditch system.

    2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1279 (Protect Public Health Firegfighter Safety Regulation #PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) and HB19-1264 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Modifications)

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

    At an Arvada fire station, Polis signed into law House Bill 1279, which bans certain kinds of foam used in firefighting training. Such foam contains so-called “forever chemicals” that have contaminated drinking water in El Paso County and elsewhere…

    The foam contaminated Fountain’s water supply, and it has since installed filters to deal with problem…

    HB 1279 bans Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Such chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and have been found in the nearby Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain.

    The foam was sprayed on the ground and used in a firefighting training area that was flushed into the Colorado Springs Utilities treatment system, which was ill-equipped to remove the chemicals. The effluent ended up in Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield aquifer.

    The Air Force since has replaced that foam with a new version that the military says is less toxic, though it still contains perfluorinated chemicals.

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    In Salida, Polis signed House Bill 1264, which is intended to resolve some of the long-standing problems with the state’s conservation easement program.

    Landowners say the Colorado Department of Revenue revoked tax credits awarded to those who entered into conservation easements with land trusts, with more than 800 credits revoked from the 4,000 granted in the program’s first 15 years.

    HB 1264 is intended to make the program more transparent, with a warning to landowners that easements are in perpetuity. The bill also requires the Division of Conservation Easements, within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, to set up a committee to determine how to repay those tax credits.

    The committee is to hold its first hearing June 25, an addition to the bill made by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

    Legislative leaders in both parties are to appoint the committee members, and lawmakers say they intend to include representatives for those who have been denied tax credits as well as other program critics.

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Colorado Governor Jared Polis chose the banks of the Arkansas River in Salida as the ideal location to sign an unprecedented nine bills into law on Monday morning, June 3. The location underscored both the importance of these bills to Colorado’s rural and recreation economies, as well as highlighting Colorado’s growing preference for collaboration to get things done…

    SB19-221 – CO Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project

    This bill sponsored by Donovan and Roberts, is focused on the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and assigns an appropriation to protect those projects…

    SB19-186 – Expand Agricultural Chemical Management Program Protect Surface Water

    Another bill sponsored by Donovan, Catlin, Coram and including Rep. Jeni Arndt, seeks to protect Colorado surface water from contamination by the expansion of agriculture chemical management plans.

    Colorado NRCS now accepting applications for 2019 Agricultural Land Easement and Wetlands Reserve Programs — High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal

    Irrigation sprinklers run over a farm in Longmont in the South Platte River basin. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

    From The High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:

    Clint Evans, Colorado State conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently announced applications for the 2019 Agricultural Conservation Easement Program—Agricultural Land Easement and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program-Wetlands Reserve Program—are currently being accepted on a rolling basis. Due to the new 2018 Farm Bill, Colorado NRCS will not be announcing an application deadline for either program at this time. A subsequent announcement will be made at least 30 days prior to any established deadline in 2019.

    The purpose of the ACEP-ALE program is to protect the agricultural viability, grazing uses and related conservation values by limiting nonagricultural uses of the land. The purpose of the ACEP-WRE program is to protect and restore wetlands, wildlife habitat, and water quality on agricultural lands. These programs are voluntary and the landowner retains ownership of the land.

    Applicants for ACEP-ALE must be a federally recognized Indian Tribe, state or local units of government, or a non-governmental organization. Individual landowners may apply for ACEP-WRE if their land includes farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully restored or other eligible wetland type.

    Completed application packets for ACEP-ALE should be emailed to Heather Foley at heather.foley@co.usda.gov or mailed to Heather Foley, easements coordinator, USDA-NRCS, Denver Federal Center, Building 56, Room 2604, Denver, CO 80225. Completed application packets for ACEP-WRE must be submitted to the local NRCS field offices located within USDA Service Centers. Application packets for either program must be submitted based on the 2018 guidelines.

    For more information about NRCS easement programs, please contact Heather Foley at 720-544-2805 or heather.foley@co.usda.gov. You can also visit your local NRCS Service Center or visit the Colorado NRCS website at http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov.

    #Colorado Open Lands and Morgan County rancher ink conservation easement deal for 1,218 acres

    A view of Washington Avenue in Orchard, Colorado. Orchard is in Morgan County. Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Kara Morgan):

    Morgan County resident John Yocam and Colorado Open Lands ended 2018 with a deal.

    Yocam decided about a year ago that he wanted to conserve his family’s ranchland to make sure it stayed the thriving ranch land and habitat site that they had worked for many years to maintain. He approached Colorado Open Lands, a nonprofit land trust, to figure out how best to ensure the land would continue on as it has…

    Yocam said in the past his land has been a site of interest by outside parties, and he wanted to ensure that it stayed the ranchland it has been. As both Yocam and Farmer explain, the land is both ranchland and an important habitat site for local and migrating wildlife…

    Yocam explained some of the history of his land and why a conservation easement made sense for him.

    “It’s been a long time coming actually. It started back in the ’70s when they were going to put in Centennial Wildlife Refuge here,” he said.

    Yocam said the land has been in his family for about 70 years or so, since the mid-1950s, and he himself has lived there since 1976.

    “Pressure has just got to so much here from different water projects, recharge projects. I’ve been in court about three times and so I just got tired of fighting off everybody,” he explained. “So I donated it into a land trust.”

    […]

    ‘Rare and Unusual’

    Describing the recently conserved land, Yocam said with some pride, “It was deemed rare and unusual and must be protected, was the rating they gave it.”

    Farmer explained how this land is valuable in many ways, more than ranchland.

    “In addition to being highly productive, the ranch also provides excellent waterfowl habitat with its wetland and upland features,” she said.

    The land is located outside of the town of Orchard, Farmer said, and it plays an important role for the wildlife living in the area, especially birds.

    “Occurring within the ‘Golden Triangle,’ an area in Morgan and Weld counties defined by Empire Reservoir, Jackson Reservoir and Riverside Reservoir, the ranch and surrounding agricultural lands provide populations of ducks and geese with important upland/agricultural foraging grounds during their migration and over-wintering in the South Platte Basin,” Farmer explained.

    For bird migration in the area, this location is critical, she said.

    “This region is one of the most important wetland complexes in the South Platte Basin along the Central Flyway Migration Corridor,” Farmer said.

    Yocam painted a picture of the land diversity across his property: “It’s river bottom, into a riparian habitat. I’ve got a large sub-irrigated meadow. It’s got a big chunk of wetlands on it and then it goes into the uplands.”

    Credit Wikimedia.com.