USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Teresa Lasseter has unveiled a new 500,000-acre Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) practice to improve habitat for high-priority wildlife species throughout the United States.

"The State Areas for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative is a locally led, results-oriented effort to address high-value wildlife habitat restoration and Cooperative Conservation goals," said Lasseter. "The project furthers CRP's achievements in protecting our nation's natural resources, builds on a strong legacy of wildlife enhancement and is consistent with the Bush administration's goal of making CRP a more targeted and focused program."

Deputy Administrator for Farm Programs John Johnson made the announcement on behalf of FSA at the 72nd North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference in Portland, Ore.

SAFE will enable the public, producers, state and federal agencies, non-profit conservation organizations and others to propose areas where new CRP acreage may be established to address the habitat needs of endangered, threatened or high-priority fish and other wildlife species.

Successful proposals must comply with CRP eligibility requirements and may come from any of the 50 states. SAFE seeks to enroll 500,000 acres in new CRP contracts.

In addition, conservation practices currently offered under CRP can be fine-tuned under SAFE to improve, connect or create higher-quality habitat to promote healthier ecosystems in areas identified as essential to effective species management.

FSA state offices will accept proposals beginning in August 2007. FSA will consider SAFE proposals through a review process that includes FSA and the USDA state technical committees.

Later this year, FSA state offices will begin to announce approved SAFE proposals and sign-up periods. Eligible producers in these areas may enter into new CRP contracts with USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). FSA administers CRP on behalf of CCC.

CCC will offer participants an annual CRP rental rate equivalent to soil rental rates for the county, plus an annual maintenance payment. Also, the producer is eligible for cost-share assistance of up to 50 percent of eligible practice installation costs.

In addition, producers will be eligible for a one-time payment of $100 per acre Signing Incentive Payment. Producers may also receive a Practice Incentive Payment equal to 40 percent of the eligible establishment costs of the practice.

Consistent with the Bush administration's Cooperative Conservation Initiative, FSA's development of SAFE encourages the public, producers, wildlife experts in state and federal agencies, the non-profit community and others to work together. The goal is to create and submit proposals to benefit high-value wildlife in need of special consideration in their part of the country.

FSA hopes this flexible, results-oriented, locally led practice will encourage cooperative SAFE proposals, proposals that benefit more than a single species and that address species that require a regional approach in portions of several states.

CRP is the nation's largest private-lands conservation program, with more than 36 million acres enrolled. Through CRP, farmers and ranchers enroll land in 10- to 15-year contracts and agree to plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams.

The plantings help prevent soil and nutrients from running into regional waterways and impacting water quality, while providing wildlife habitat and improving air quality.

More information about FSA's conservation programs is available at local FSA offices and online at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov; click on Conservation Programs.