Have you heard about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)? The original USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was signed into existence in 1985, with the enhanced CREP having existed in Illinois for over 20 years as a partnership between various federal agencies, state agencies, and most importantly private landowners. The CREP is a program that has served Illinois landowners for decades, but is surprisingly unknown in an agriculture-driven state like Illinois. The stated goals of the CREP program are ‘to reduce sediment and nutrient runoff, improve water quality, and create and enhance critical habitat for fish and wildlife populations on private lands within the Illinois and Kaskaskia River Watersheds,’ while being done in a way that provides financial incentives to private landowners. As a farmer or landowner with portions of your property that may frequently flood and are therefore unproductive, let’s take a look at some of the benefits of this program, and how we can be your partner in making it a success.
Where: The Illinois CREP program is available to landowners within the Illinois and Kaskaskia River Watersheds, which includes large swaths of northeast, central, western and southwestern Illinois. You can see a map of the included watersheds here.
Why: Much of the land in Illinois is privately owned, and the conservation needs of the state exceed the land owned by state and federal agencies. So, to further these conservation goals there is a need for private landowners to voluntarily participate in conservation actions on their lands. However, there is also a recognition that landowners should be compensated for removing these acres from agricultural production.
How: While initially it may seem intimidating, there are a few basic steps to the enrollment process. You can find more detailed information here, but the basic steps are as follows:
- First, you must contact your local USDA Farm Service Agency office to determine if your land is eligible for the program. If it is, the landowners execute a 15-year contract with FSA for the acres, with annual ‘rental’ reimbursements from FSA to the landowner.
- A management plan is created for the acres, describing conservation actions to be taken. Often this will include establishment of native plant species appropriate for the habitat, which is something we can help you with though our consultation service!
- FSA then reimburses the landowners 50% of the cost of establishing the conservation practices on the acres.
After enrolling in the federal CREP, even more benefits are available through the Illinois CREP:
- Contact your nearest Soil and Water Conservation District to start enrollment in Illinois CREP.
- Similar to the federal CREP, you can enroll your acres in a 15-year easement, or in perpetuity beyond the 15-year federal contract.
- Unlike the federal CREP annual rental payments, enrollment in the Illinois CREP provides a one-time, lump sum reimbursement for the enrolled acres.
- Landowners will be reimbursed the other 50% of the establishment costs that were not covered by FSA.
How Natural Communities can help: From advising on the management plan, to figuring out which plants are appropriate for your enrolled acres, to providing those plants at the best cost, and giving guidance on how to manage those plants into the future, we are your one-stop conservation shop! The CREP is a fantastic opportunity for landowners to get reimbursed for unproductive acres, as well as contributing to the conservation of Illinois’ natural lands. Reach out today and let us help you make your enrollment a success, get reimbursed for unproductive acres and contribute to the conservation of our beautiful state. It’s a win-win!