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e-CFR data is current as of February 25, 2021

Title 7Subtitle BChapter XIVSubchapter CPart 1491Subpart A → §1491.4

Title 7: Agriculture
Subpart A—General Provisions

§1491.4   Program requirements.

(a) Under FRPP, the Chief, on behalf of the CCC, will facilitate and provide funding for the purchase of conservation easements or other interests in eligible land that is subject to a pending offer from an eligible entity for the purpose of protecting the agricultural use and related conservation values of the land by limiting non-agricultural uses of the land. Eligible entities submit applications to NRCS State offices to partner with NRCS to acquire conservation easements on farm and ranch land. NRCS enters into cooperative agreements with selected entities and provides funds for up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the easement. In return, the eligible entity agrees to acquire, hold, manage, and enforce the easement. A Federal right of enforcement must also be included in each FRPP funded easement deed for the protection of the Federal investment.

(b) The term of all easements or other interests in land will be in perpetuity unless prohibited by State law. In States that limit the term of the easement or other interest in land, the term of the easement or other interest in land must be the maximum allowed by State law.

(c) To be eligible to receive FRPP funding, an Indian Tribe, State, unit of local government, or a nongovernmental organization must meet the definition of eligible entity as listed in §1491.3. In addition, eligible entities interested in receiving FRPP funds must demonstrate:

(1) A commitment to long-term conservation of agricultural lands;

(2) A capability to acquire, manage, and enforce easements;

(3) Sufficient number of staff dedicated to monitoring and easement stewardship; and

(4) The availability of funds.

(d) To be considered for certification, an entity must submit a written request for certification to NRCS, and must:

(1) Meet the requirements identified in paragraph (c) of this section;

(2) Use or agree to use for FRPP funded acquisitions, the Uniform Standards for Professional Appraisal Practice or the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions in conducting appraisals;

(3) Hold, manage, and monitor a minimum of 25 agricultural land conservation easements, unless the entity requests and receives a waiver of this requirement from the Chief;

(4) Hold, manage, and monitor a minimum of five FRPP or Farmland Protection Program conservation easements;

(5) Have the demonstrated ability to complete acquisition of easements in a timely fashion;

(6) Have the capacity to enforce the provisions of easement deeds;

(7) For nongovernmental organizations, possess a dedicated fund for the purposes of easement management, monitoring, and enforcement where such fund is sufficiently capitalized in accordance with NRCS standards. The dedicated fund must be dedicated to the purposes of managing, monitoring, and enforcing each easement held by the eligible entity;

(8) Be willing to adjust procedures to ensure that the conservation easements acquired meet FRPP purposes and are enforceable; and

(9) Have a plan for administering easements enrolled under this part, as determined by the Chief.

(e) NRCS will notify an entity in writing whether they have been certified and the rationale for the agency's decision. Once NRCS determines an entity qualifies as certified:

(1) NRCS will enter into a cooperative agreement with the certified entity through which NRCS may obligate funding for up to 5 years. New parcels or prior-year unfunded parcels submitted for funding by certified entities must compete for funding each year. Selected parcels and funding will be added to the existing cooperative agreement using an amendment to the cooperative agreement. Funding expiration dates for the added parcels will be in the amendment to the cooperative agreement;

(2) NRCS will accept applications from certified entities continuously throughout the fiscal year;

(3) Certified entities may elect to close easements without NRCS approving the conservation easement deeds, titles, or appraisals before closing;

(4) Certified entities will prepare the conservation easement deeds, titles, and appraisals according to NRCS requirements as identified in the cooperative agreement;

(5) NRCS will conduct quality assurance reviews of a percentage of the conservation easement transactions submitted by the certified entity for payment. The review will include whether the deed, title review, or appraisals were conducted in accordance with the requirements set forth by NRCS in its certification of the eligible entity or in the cooperative agreement entered into with the certified entity; and

(6) If a certified entity closes on the easement without a pre-closing NRCS review, and the conservation easement deed, title, or appraisal fails the NRCS quality assurance review, NRCS will provide the certified entity an opportunity to correct the errors. If the certified entity fails to correct the errors to NRCS satisfaction, NRCS may consider decertification of the entity in accordance with paragraph (f) of this section.

(f) Review and decertification of the certified entity. (1) The Chief will conduct a review of the certified entity a minimum of once every 3 years to ensure that the certified entities are meeting the certification criteria established in §1491.4(d).

(2) If the Chief finds that the certified entity no longer meets the criteria in §1491.4(d), the Chief will:

(i) Allow the certified entity a specified period of time, at a minimum 180 days, in which to take such actions as may be necessary to correct the identified deficiencies, and

(ii) If the State Conservationist has determined the certified entity does not meet the criteria established in §1491.4(d) after the 180 days, the State Conservationist will send, by certified mail, return receipt requested, written notice of proposed decertification of the entity's certification status or eligibility for future FRPP funding. This notice will contain what actions have not been completed to retain certification status, what actions the entity must take to request certification status, the status of funds in the cooperative agreement, and the eligibility of the entity to apply for future FRPP funds. The entity may contest the Notice of Decertification in writing to the State Conservationist within 20 calendar days of receipt of the notice of proposed decertification.

(3) The period of decertification may not exceed 3 years in duration, with duration of decertification based upon the seriousness of the facts; and

(4) The entity may be recertified upon application to NRCS, after the decertification period has expired, and when the entity has met the requirements as outlined under §1491.4(d).

(g) Eligible land:

(1) Must be privately owned land on a farm or ranch and contain at least 50 percent prime, unique, statewide, or locally important farmland, unless otherwise determined by the State Conservationist; contain historical or archaeological resources; furthers a State or local policy consistent with the purposes of the program; and is subject to a pending offer by an eligible entity;

(2) Must be cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, or forest land that contributes to the economic viability of an agricultural operation or serves as a buffer to protect an agricultural operation from development;

(3) May include land that is incidental to the cropland, rangeland, grassland, pastureland, or forest land if the incidental land is determined by the Secretary to be necessary for the efficient administration of a conservation easement;

(4) May include parts of or entire farms or ranches;

(5) Must not include forest land of greater than two-thirds of the easement area. Land with contiguous forest that exceeds the greater of 40 acres or 20 percent of the easement area will have a forest management plan before closing, unless the Chief has reviewed and approved an alternative means by which the forest land's contribution to the economic viability of the land has been demonstrated;

(6) NRCS will not provide FRPP funds for the purchase of an easement or other interest in land on land owned in fee title by an agency of the United States, a State or local government, or by a nongovernmental organization whose purpose is to protect agricultural use and related conservation values, including those listed in the statute under eligible land, or land that is already subject to an easement or deed restriction that limits the conversion of the land to non-agricultural use;

(7) Must be owned by landowners who certify that they do not exceed the adjusted gross income limitation eligibility requirements set forth in part 1400 of this title;

(8) Must possess suitable onsite and offsite conditions which will allow the easement to be effective in achieving the purposes of the program. Unsuitable conditions may include, but are not limited to, hazardous substances on or in the vicinity of the parcel, land use surrounding the parcel that is not compatible with agriculture, and highway or utility corridors that are planned to pass through or immediately adjacent to the parcel; and

(9) May be land on which gas, oil, earth, or other mineral rights exploration has been leased or is owned by someone other than the applicant and may be offered for participation in the program. However, if an applicant submits an offer for an easement project, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) will assess the potential impact that the third party rights may have upon achieving the program purposes. USDA reserves the right to deny funding for any application where there are exceptions to clear title on any property.

(h) Prior to closing, the value of the conservation easement must be appraised. Appraisals must be completed and signed by a State-certified general appraiser and must contain a disclosure statement by the appraiser. The appraisal must conform to the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practices or the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, as selected by the eligible entity. State Conservationists will provide the guidelines through which NRCS will review appraisals for quality assurance purposes. Entities must provide a copy of the appraisal to NRCS.

(i) The landowner will be responsible for complying with the Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985 (1985 Act), as amended and 7 CFR part 12.

(j) The entity may substitute acres within a pending offer. Substituted acres must not decrease the value of the offered easement or the value of the parcel in meeting program purposes. With the State Conservationist's approval, a cooperating entity may substitute pending offers within their cooperative agreement. The landowner and parcel must meet eligibility criteria as described in §1491.4(e). The State Conservationist may require re-ranking of substituted acres and substituted parcels.

[76 FR 4039, Jan. 24, 2011, as amended at 77 FR 6944, Feb. 10, 2012]

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