1468.20 Program requirements.§ 1468.20 Program requirements.
(a) General. (1) Under ACEP-ALE, NRCS will facilitate and provide cost-share assistance for the purchase by eligible entities of agricultural land easements or other interests in eligible private or Tribal land that is -
(i) Subject to a written pending offer; or
(ii) Owned or in the process of being purchased by the eligible entity as part of an approved buy-protect-sell transaction.
(2) To participate in ACEP-ALE, eligible entities as identified in (b) below must submit applications to NRCS State offices to partner with NRCS to acquire conservation easements on eligible land. Eligible entities must enter into an ALE-agreement with NRCS and address the ACEP-ALE deed requirements specified therein, the effect of which is to protect natural resources and the agricultural nature of the land and permit the landowner the right to continue agricultural production and related uses.
(3) Under the ALE-agreement, unless otherwise specified in this part, the Federal share of the cost of an agricultural land easement or other interest in eligible land will not exceed 50 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement and the eligible entity will provide a share that is at least equivalent to the Federal share.
(4) The duration of each agricultural land easement or other interest in land will be in perpetuity or the maximum duration allowed by State law.
(b) Entity eligibility. (1) To be eligible to receive ACEP-ALE funding, an Indian Tribe, State, unit of local government, or a nongovernmental organization must meet the definition of eligible entity as listed in § 1468.3. In addition, eligible entities interested in receiving ACEP-ALE funds must provide NRCS sufficient evidence of -
(i) A commitment to long-term conservation of agricultural lands,
(ii) A demonstrated capability to acquire, manage, and enforce easements,
(iii) Sufficient number of staff dedicated to monitoring and easement stewardship,
(iv) The estimated easement and related costs and the anticipated sources of funding sufficient to meet the non-Federal share requirements for each parcel as described in § 1468.24, and
(v) For individual parcels on which the eligible entity's own cash resources will comprise less than 10 percent of the fair market value of the agricultural land easement for payment of easement compensation to the landowner, the eligible entity must provide NRCS specific evidence of funding available to manage, monitor, and enforce the easement.
(2) All eligible entities identified on an application or ALE-agreement must -
(i) Ensure that their records and the records of all landowners of parcels identified on an application have been established in the USDA customer records system and that USDA has all the documentation needed to establish these records, and
(ii) Eligible entities must also comply with applicable registration and reporting requirements of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (Pub. L. 109-282, as amended) and 2 CFR parts 25 and 170, and maintain such registration for the duration of the ALE-agreement.
(c) Landowner eligibility. Under ACEP-ALE, all parcel landowners, including an eligible entity owner of private or Tribal land in an approved buy-protect-sell transaction, must -
(1) Be in compliance with the highly erodible land and wetland conservation provisions in 7 CFR part 12,
(2) Persons or legal entities must be in compliance with the Adjusted Gross Income Limitation provisions of 7 CFR part 1400;
(3) Agree to provide access to the property and such information to NRCS as the agency deems necessary or desirable to assist in its determination of eligibility for program implementation purposes; and
(4) Have their records established in the USDA customer records system.
(d) Land eligibility. (1) Land will only be considered eligible for enrollment in ACEP-ALE based on NRCS determination that such private or Tribal agricultural land, including land on a farm or ranch that -
(i) Is subject to a written pending offer by an eligible entity or part of an approved buy-protect-sell transaction;
(ii)(A) Contains at least 50 percent prime or unique farmland, or designated farm and ranch land of State or local importance unless otherwise determined by NRCS,
(B) Contains historical or archaeological resources,
(C) The enrollment of which would protect grazing uses and related conservation values by restoring or conserving land, or
(D) Furthers a State or local policy consistent with the purposes of the ACEP-ALE;
(iii) Is -
(C) Grassland or land that contains forbs or shrubland for which grazing is the predominant use;
(D) Located in an area that has been historically dominated by grassland, forbs, or shrubs and could provide habitat for animal or plant populations of significant ecological value;
(E) Pastureland; or
(F) Nonindustrial private forest land that contributes to the economic viability of a parcel offered for enrollment or serves as a buffer to protect such land from development; and
(iv) Possesses suitable onsite and offsite conditions which will allow the easement to be effective in achieving the purposes of the program.
(2) If land offered for enrollment is determined eligible under paragraph (d)(1) of this section, then NRCS may also enroll land that is incidental to the eligible land if the incidental land is determined by NRCS to be necessary for the efficient administration of an agricultural land easement.
(3) Eligible land, including eligible incidental land, may not include nonindustrial private forest land of greater than two-thirds of the easement area unless waived by NRCS with respect to lands identified by NRCS as sugar bush that contributes to the economic viability of the parcel.
(e) Ineligible land. The land specified in paragraphs (e)(1) through (7) of this section is not eligible for enrollment in ACEP-ALE:
(1) Lands owned by an agency of the United States, other than land held in trust for Indian Tribes;
(2) Lands owned in fee title by a State, including an agency or a subdivision of a State, or unit of local government;
(3) Land owned by a nongovernmental organization whose purpose is to protect agricultural use and related conservation values including those listed in the statute under eligible land unless the eligible land is owned on a transitional basis as part of an approved buy-protect-sell transaction;
(4) Land subject to an easement or deed restriction which, as determined by NRCS, provides similar restoration and protection as would be provided by enrollment in the program;
(5) Land where the purposes of the program would be undermined due to onsite or offsite conditions, such as risk of hazardous materials, permitted or existing rights-of-way, infrastructure development, or adjacent land uses;
(6) Land which NRCS determines to have unacceptable exceptions to clear title or insufficient legal access; or
(7) Land on which gas, oil, earth, or mineral rights exploration has been leased or is owned by someone other than the landowner is ineligible under ACEP-ALE unless it is determined by NRCS that the third-party rights will not harm or interfere with the conservation values or agricultural uses of the easement, that any methods of exploration and extraction will have only a limited and localized impact on the easement, and the limitations are specified in the ALE deed.
(f) Buy-Protect-Sell transaction land eligibility. (1) NRCS may enter into a buy-protect sell transaction with an eligible entity on a parcel that -
(i) Otherwise meets the eligibility criteria described in this section,
(ii) Is subject to conditions, as determined by NRCS, that necessitate the ownership of the parcel by the eligible entity on a transitional basis prior to the creation of an agricultural land easement, such as imminent threat of development, including, but not limited to, planned or approved conversion of grasslands to more intensive agricultural uses, and
(iii) Is owned by or is in the process of being purchased by the eligible entity.
(2) At the time of application, the eligible entity must provide NRCS evidence of ownership or active purchase of the parcel, such as a valid purchase agreement.
(3) The eligible entity must meet all program requirements and any specific provisions related to buy-protect-sell transactions as specified in this part.[85 FR 571, Jan. 6, 2020, as amended at 86 FR 8130, Feb. 4, 2021]