Welcome President Obama to Michigan for Bill Signing
“This funding is a great investment for future generations of farmers in Michigan, our local residents 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 Jonathan Jarosz, Executive Director of Heart of the Lakes. Heart of the Lakes is the state association of Michigan’s land conservancies, nonprofit conservation organizations that work to permanently protect natural, scenic and working farms and forest lands across the state. “We especially recognize and thank Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, for her leadership on this critical legislation, as well as the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and the many hours they devoted to working with Committee staff on the legislation.”
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 throughout the United States, 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. Unofficial totals suggest that since 1996, Michigan has protected nearly 17,000 farmland acres because of the FRPP program. Federal dollars have totaled approximately $30 million, leveraging nearly $50 million in local match dollars and donated land value from farm owners.
The Land Trust Alliance, a national association of land conservancies, worked with Senate and House leaders to secure a provision in the Farm Bill that allows the Agriculture Secretary to waive a local cash-match requirement of 25 percent. Michigan conservancies such as Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy (Traverse City), Leelanau Conservancy (Leland), and Legacy Land Conservancy (Ann Arbor) helped build awareness of the need for the legislation and the importance of the waiver provision with Michigan’s congressional delegation.
“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 Brian Bourdages, Farmland Program Manager for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “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.”