ORRTANNA, Penn. - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that applications are now being accepted for new, landmark conservation initiatives created by the 2014 Farm Bill. The programs will provide up to $386 million to help farmers restore wetlands, protect working agriculture lands, support outdoor recreation activities and boost the economy.

Vilsack made the announcement at Kuhn Orchards in Orrtanna, Penn. The farm's owners participate in the USDA Conservation Stewardship Program, have worked to encourage pollinator health through planting practices, and used USDA program support to construct a high tunnel.

"By protecting working lands and wetlands, we're able to strengthen agricultural operations, sustain the nation's food supply and protect habitat for a variety of wildlife," Vilsack said. "In addition, we're providing states and Tribal governments a tool to expand access to private lands for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities, which helps boost wildlife-related businesses and grow the economy."

USDA's conservation efforts have helped mitigate the negative impacts of drought and are helping producers to manage the effects of climate change. USDA has enrolled a record number of acres in conservation programs that have saved millions of tons of soil and improved water quality and have contributed to the national effort to preserve habitat for wildlife and protect the most sensitive ecological areas. USDA has partnered with more than 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners on these conservation projects since 2009-a record number.

In addition to protecting cropland and critical habitats, conservation strengthens outdoor recreation and helps boost the economy.

The new programs are the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program (ACEP) and the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). Applications for ACEP funding consideration in fiscal year 2014 must be submitted by the individual state deadline or June 6, 2014, whichever is earlier. Applications and state deadline information can be obtained at your local USDA Service Center or at www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted. Applications for VPA-HIP are due by June 16 and should be completed at Grants.gov. For more information, view the notice on Grants.gov or the program's website.

Through the 2014 Farm Bill's new conservation programs, USDA is making available up to $366 million for conservation easements under ACEP to state and local governments, Indian tribes, non-governmental organizations and private landowners. ACEP consolidates three former easement programs-the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, the Grassland Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program-into one to make conservation efforts more efficient while strengthening tools to protect land and water.

VPA-HIP is a competitive grant program that enables state and Tribal governments to increase opportunities for owners and managers of private lands who want to make their land available for public recreation. Up to $20 million is available this year for VPA-HIP. Both programs have application deadlines later this spring.

Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program

Recipients of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program can use the grant funding to create new or expand existing public access programs. These programs provide financial incentives or technical assistance, such as rental payments or wildlife habitat planning services, to owners and managers who allow public access.

Funding priority will be given to applications that propose to:

• Maximize private lands acreage available to the public;

• Ensure that land enrolled in the program has appropriate wildlife habitat;

• Strengthen wildlife habitat improvement efforts;

• Supplement funding and services from other federal or state agencies, tribes or private resources; and

• Provide information to the public about the location of public access land.

Applications for VPA-HIP are due by June 16 and should be completed at Grants.gov. For more information, view the notice on Grants.gov or the program's website.