The Farm Service Agency’s Grassland Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provides ranchers with yearly payments for sustaining wildlife grazing habitats while allowing livestock production activities to continue on the land. A recent webinar organized by Western Landowners Alliance offered guidance on navigating the 2023 application window, which will open soon.
Supporting Agriculture and Native Species
Grassland CRP is a voluntary habitat lease program that contracts with agricultural landowners and operators to protect native grasslands essential to grazing wildlife species, including bison, elk, and deer.
Unlike other FSA-supported CRP programs that require removal of lands from agriculture production, Grassland CRP allows landowners and agricultural operators to continue using accepted lands for grazing as well as hay and seed production as long as sustainable grassland procedures are in place.
“Grassland CRP is a working lands program, which is designed to support continued livestock grazing in a manner that also accommodates the needs of wildlife,” Western Landowners Alliance Executive Director Lesli Allison told webinar attendees.
Eligible lands must include no more than 5 percent tree-covered canopy and feature an established cover of FSA-approved grass and shrub species. Applicants must have owned their land for at least 12 months before applying for program admission.
Lands accepted into the program will receive a tailored conservation plan developed by the National Resources Conservation Service and annual payments — typically $13 to $18 an acre, depending on current county rates — during the 10- to 15-year tenure of the habitat lease agreement. Additionally, certain properties may be eligible for a 50 percent cost share for fencing and other wildlife-supportive infrastructures.
During the webinar, national and state-level Grassland CRP authorities encouraged interested landowners to reach out to their county FSA service office to learn more about the program and specific eligibility requirements before the application window closes, likely in May.
Applications for Grassland CRP participation are ranked on a set criteria of indicators, with preference given to lands in certain grassland priority zones. This year’s priority zones include designated wildlife migration corridors within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including western Wyoming, southern Montana, and eastern Idaho. Ranking indicators for 2023 applications should be released by FSA soon.
New Opportunities for Wyoming Ranchers
A pilot program partnership between the state of Wyoming and the USDA offers new opportunities for Wyoming landowners to enroll in Grassland CRP and still remain eligible for cost-share programs, such as the USDA-supported Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
During the webinar, Western Landowners Alliance staff emphasized their availability to assist Wyoming landowners in navigating this new incentive layering opportunity.
If the pilot program is successful, it will likely grow to include other states.
The USDA-Wyoming partnership pilot “really grew out of conversations with landowners and public agencies and local stakeholders, and the Grassland Conservation Reserve Program is one of the tools in that partnership,” Allison said.