Think tank proposes dramatic expansion of conservation easements

The government can buffer the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on farmers, ranchers, and forest owners by a dramatic expansion of conservation easement programs that prevent development of private lands, said the Center for American Progress (CAP) on Tuesday. Its ten-year “Race for Nature” would lead to a 10-fold increase in the pace of land conservation and permanent or long-term protection of at least 55 million acres, or 86,000 square miles.

“U.S. policymakers need to act quickly and decisively to help family farmers, ranchers and forestry owners keep their lands — and keep them healthy — through this catastrophic pandemic and economic crisis,” wrote CAP senior analyst Ryan Richard and CAP senior fellow Matt Lee-Ashley. Easements “give farmers, ranchers and private land owners the option to transform a portion of a traditionally illiquid asset – the development rights to the land – into much-needed cash revenue that can help them weather this economic storm.”

In a paper describing its proposal, CAP said its program would result in the sequestration of at least 70 million tons of carbon by 2030. The “Race for Nature” also would be a step toward the “30×30” goal of protecting 30 percent, or more, of all lands and oceans by 2030.

The CAP released its proposal ahead of a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on Wednesday on legislation to create a certification program at USDA so farmers and landowners can be paid for carbon sequestration.

For the past two years, the Trump administration has proposed a $40 million reduction in the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program at USDA. The cut would be part of large-scale reductions throughout USDA conservation and rural economic development programs.

The CAP report, “Race for Nature, How Congress can help farmers and ranchers save their lands and survive the coronavirus-induced economic crisis,” is available here.