USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has issued the final rule for the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), which defines requirements for participants and incorporates changes to program implementation requested by the public. The final rule can be viewed at www.regulations.gov.

“We have lost more than 21 million acres of ranchland and pastureland to development over the past 25 years,” says NRCS Chief Dave White. “GRP helps to retain agricultural lands, ensuring healthy and diverse ecosystems that benefit the landowner and the surrounding community while also providing wildlife habitat.”

The final rule addresses public comments on various program definitions, wind power, native species, landowner contributions, long-term management funding, ranking priorities, state-level priorities and the terms and conditions of GRP deeds.

GRP is a voluntary program that helps landowners restore and protect grassland, rangeland, pastureland, scrubland, and other lands, and provides assistance for rehabilitating grasslands. The program supports working grazing operations, enhancement of plant and animal biodiversity, and protection of grassland and land containing shrubs and forbs under the threat of conversion. Administered by NRCS and USDA's Farm Service Agency, it’s available in all 50 states.

Applications are accepted continuously. Each application is ranked by the NRCS state conservationist and the FSA state executive director based upon criteria developed with input from the state technical committee. Participants agree to limit future development and cropping uses of the land. They retain the right to conduct common grazing practices and operations; this is subject to certain restrictions during nesting seasons of bird species that are in significant decline. A grazing management plan is required for all participants.

For more information about NRCS conservation programs, visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov, or the nearest USDA Service Center.