Maryland expands Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program

26 January 2024- The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is expanding the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) permanent easement program statewide for the preservation of agricultural land and protection of waterways. 

Previously these easements were available in nine Maryland counties; now, landowners across Maryland with existing federal CREP contracts can participate in this significant land conservation program. The expansion was approved Jan. 3 by the Board of Public of Works – Gov. Wes Moore, Comptroller ​Brooke E. Lierman, and Treasurer Dereck E. Davis.

“The benefits from these permanent conservation easements are immense – ranging from reducing sediment and nutrient runoff into local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, to enhancing wildlife habitats along streams and wetlands, and to better equipping coastal areas for climate resilience and protecting against coastal flooding,” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Josh Kurtz. “The department has protected 12,738 acres under this program so far and we can now anticipate a substantial increase in the acreage of these types of preserved lands.”

The CREP program was instituted to help meet the state’s goal of planting forest riparian buffers, which helps filter out nutrient pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus that negatively affect the Chesapeake Bay. Through this program, farmers enter a contract with the federal government to remove environmentally sensitive cropland and pastureland from active protection for 10-15 years and install best management practices. Maryland’s permanent easement program compensates farmers for keeping those lands out of active production and maintaining those best management practices there in perpetuity. 

Tree plantings for a forest buffer, as seen on a Washington County CREP easement, are a key best management practice.”

Those best management practices include planting streamside forested buffers, establishing wetlands, creating wildlife habitat, and others. Specific practices and compensation formulas are determined by Maryland DNR based on attributes of each property.

Since 2009, the CREP easement program has only been available in nine counties that were determined at the time to have the highest levels of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus loading to streams and the Chesapeake Bay. This expansion will broaden the impact of permanent conserved lands across the state. 

To participate in the CREP permanent easement program, landowners must first enter into a contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, operating out of local soil conservation district offices. For more information, landowners can contact Katrina Tucker, Conservation Easement Supervisor, Maryland Department of Natural Resources at 410-260-8408 or katrinal.tucker@maryland.gov.