The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with Hilltown Land Trust, Kestrel Land Trust, Franklin Land Trust, and Mass Audubon, have announced that farmland owners in the Connecticut River Valley Watershed in western Massachusetts are eligible for funding to permanently protect their land through the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Agricultural Land Easements (ALE).

Farmland owners may apply for ACEP ALE at any time during the year, but applications from landowners in the Connecticut River Valley that are received by March 15, 2022 will be ranked and considered for funding through the Connecting the Connecticut River Watershed project. The project, which will protect vulnerable farmland from the threat of development, is funded in part through NRCS’ Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). RCPP promotes coordination of NRCS conservation activities with partners that offer value-added contributions to expand the agency’s ability to address on-farm, watershed, and regional natural resource concerns.

Applications will be ranked according to their contribution to the RCPP goals of conserving productive farmland that also offers significant wildlife habitat resources and improved water quality. These goals allow for increased flexibility in the types of soils and the amount of forest cover in potential conservation project that are eligible for the program.

For help determining if a project is eligible for funding, potential applicants in the Connecticut River watershed of Massachusetts may contact: Mark Wamsley, Conservation Director at Kestrel Land Trust, 413-549-1097, mark@kestreltrust.org. Applications and watershed maps are available on the Kestrel Land Trust website.

Through the RCPP program, the partnership has secured federal resources to focus on conservation projects and priorities specific to the Connecticut River watershed. The effort includes expanding the use of programs to conserve a greater diversity of farmland, recognizing the benefits of those lands to the region. The ACEP Program provides financial and technical assistance to help conserve agricultural lands and wetlands. Under the ALE component, NRCS helps Indian tribes, state and local governments and non-governmental organizations protect working agricultural lands.

“USDA is committed to preserving our agricultural lands for the future generations. This is a perfect opportunity for farmers in the Connecticut River watershed to work with our partners to preserve these lands and the value they provide to the residents of Massachusetts,” said Dan Wright, Massachusetts State Conservationist for NRCS.

The five partner land trusts of the Connecting the Connecticut River Watershed project bring decades of collective expertise from working with landowners and communities to conserve land throughout western Massachusetts.

NRCS is a federal agency that works with the people of Massachusetts to improve and protect soil, water and other natural resources. Landowners will be working with RCPP partners and with NRCS staff in USDA Service Centers in Greenfield, Hadley, and Pittsfield, which work with local conservation districts and other partners to serve farmers and landowners in their area.