The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a supplementary program of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the largest voluntary US land retirement program targeted to highly erodible areas. Established in 1996 to better target environmental benefits, CREP is a federal-state partnership administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) that pays land owners who choose to participate in the program an annual rental rate for removing environmentally sensitive land from production and introducing conservation practices on the land. CREP addresses high priority conservation issues identified by local, state, or tribal governments or by non-governmental organizations. Participation agreements typically last 10-15 years and often include federal, state, and other incentives1, 2, 3.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)
Increased wildlife habitat
Reduced soil erosion
Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes
Improved soil quality
Improved water quality
Evidence of Effectiveness
There is some evidence that the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) increases wildlife habitat4, 5, 6, 7 and reduces soil erosion3, 8. Available evidence associates CREP with increases in wildlife populations; although more land covered by CREP agreements may be needed to reach sustainable levels for wildlife populations9. Studies of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which includes CREP, also show improvements to wildlife habitat10 and reductions in soil erosion11. Additional evidence is needed to confirm CREP’s effects.
CREP and CRP both establish perennial ground cover that improves wildlife habitat and water quality7, 12 and reduces run-off13. Program benefits can vary widely and are often dependent on landowner cooperation and the conservation practices used; practices differ by ecosystem and wildlife species3. Prioritizing highly erodible, sensitive land parcels within the CREP approved area during the CREP enrollment period, instead of approving applications on a first-come-first-served basis, can reduce program costs and maximize reductions in soil erosion3. A Minnesota-based study suggests that long-term contracts are essential to maintain CREP and CRP conversions of cropland to grassland or forest cover and to provide consistent income to farmers14.
In Washington state, interviews suggest programs identify and base conservation efforts on locally salient values in order to successfully increase CREP enrollments15. Identifying and understanding motivations for enrolling in a conservation program can also boost enrollment numbers16. CREP incentives differ depending on many factors; careful and purposeful dissemination of program incentive offers may increase enrollment and diversify the pool of applicants17.
A Pennsylvania-based study suggests CREP positively influences wildlife populations, in this case, however, the amount of land enrolled in CREP was insufficient to reverse wildlife population declines. A combination of more land enrolled in CREP and additional conservation strategies may be needed to fully restore declining wildlife populations4, 9.
In a 2020 report, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) estimates that since it began CRP, including CREP, it has prevented the erosion of more than 11 billion tons of soil, restored over 3 million acres of wetlands and more than 2 million acres of buffers, significantly reduced nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and has, on average, helped sequester 48 million tons of greenhouse gases annually18.
Impact on Disparities
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports 47 CREP projects across the country, covering 1.1 million acres in 33 states2. As of March 2020, the Farm Services Agency (FSA) estimates that 21.9 million acres were enrolled in CRP, including about 927,000 acres of CREP enrollment18, 19.
There are several success stories among state CREP agreements. For example, New York City’s CREP enrolled more than 130 farmers and established over 150 miles of streamside buffers that significantly reduced run-off in the watersheds that provide roughly 90% of the drinking water for New York City residents20. In Illinois, the CREP program has restored nearly 111,000 acres of bottom lands, reducing soil erosion by 2.5 million tons annually and supporting waterfowl populations and habitat21. In Missouri, the CREP program has restored 50,000 acres of riparian buffers to improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat and has created buffers on nearly 14,000 acres of Missouri farmlands22.
CCA-NYC CREP - Cooperative Conservation America (CCA), Land Conservation Assistance Network. Cooperative Conservation case study: NYC Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
CCA-Illinois CREP - Cooperative Conservation America (CCA), Land Conservation Assistance Network. Cooperative Conservation case study: Illinois River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
CCA-Missouri CREP - Cooperative Conservation America (CCA), Land Conservation Assistance Network. Cooperative Conservation case study: Missouri Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
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1 USDA-FSA Fact Sheet 2019 - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency (FSA). Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) - Colorado Republican River: Fact sheet. 2019.
2 USDA-FSA CREP - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency (FSA). Conservation programs: Conservation reserve enhancement program (CREP).
3 Khanna 2009* - Khanna M, Ando AW. Science, economics and the design of agricultural conservation programmes in the US. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. 2009;52(5):575-592.
4 Reiley 2020 - Reiley BM, Benson TJ. Does conservation practice and site age influence vegetation structure and avian abundance in restored fields? Wildlife Society Bulletin. 2020;44(4):684-694.
5 Yeiser 2018 - Yeiser JM, Morgan JJ, Baxley DL, Chandler RB, Martin JA. Private land conservation has landscape-scale benefits for wildlife in agroecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology. 2018;55(4):1930-1939.
6 O’Neal 2008* - O’Neal BJ, Heske EJ, Stafford JD. Waterbird response to wetlands restored through the conservation reserve enhancement program. Journal of Wildlife Management. 2008;72(3):654-664.
7 Sharpley 2009* - Sharpley AN, Kleinman PJA, Jordan P, Bergström L, Allen AL. Evaluating the success of phosphorus management from field to watershed. Journal of Environmental Quality. 2009;38(5):1981-8.
8 Khanna 2003* - Khanna M, Yang W, Farnsworth R, Onal H. Cost-effective targeting of land retirement to improve water quality with endogenous sediment deposition coefficients. American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 2003;85(3):538-553.
9 Pabian 2015* - Pabian SE, Wilson AM, Klinger SR, Brittingham MC. Pennsylvania’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program benefits ring-necked pheasants but not enough to reverse declines. Journal of Wildlife Management. 2015;79(4):641-646.
10 Gleason 2011 - Gleason RA, Euliss NH, Tangen BA, Laubhan MK, Browne BA. USDA conservation program and practice effects on wetland ecosystem services in the Prairie Pothole Region. Ecological Applications. 2011;21(3):S65–S81.
11 Smith 2011 - Smith LM, Haukos DA, McMurry ST, LaGrange T, Willis D. Ecosystem services provided by playas in the High Plains: Potential influences of USDA conservation programs. 2011;21(3):S82-S92.
12 Reeves 2016 - Reeves RA, Pierce CL, Smalling KL, et al. Restored agricultural wetlands in central Iowa: Habitat quality and amphibian response. Wetlands. 2016;36(1):101-110.
13 Wiseman 2014* - Wiseman JD, Burchell MR, Grabow GL, Osmond DL, Messer TL. Groundwater nitrate concentration reductions in a riparian buffer enrolled in the NC Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Journal of the American Water Resources Association. 2014;50(3):653-664.
14 Yuan 2015 - Yuan F, Mitchell M, Bohks B, Mullen K, Smith C. Long-term land use and land cover changes affected by the Conservation Reserve Program in the Minnesota River Valley. Journal of Geography and Geology. 2015;7(2).
15 Chapman 2018 - Chapman M, Satterfield T, Chan KMA. When value conflicts are barriers: Can relational values help explain farmer participation in conservation incentive programs? Land Use Policy. 2019;82:464-475.
16 Pfrimmer 2017* - Pfrimmer J, Gigliotti L, Stafford J, Schumann D, Bertrand K. Motivations for enrollment into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in the James River Basin of South Dakota. Human Dimensions of Wildlife. 2017;22(4):382-389.
17 Manley 2017 - Manley J, Mathias J. CREP: Cattle Receiving Enhanced Pastures? Investigating landowner response to federal incentives. Land Economics. 2017;93(1):59-73.
18 USDA-CRP 2020 - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency (FSA). The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): 54th signup results. 2020.
19 USDA-FSA Statistics - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency (FSA). Conservation reserve programs reports and statistics.
20 CCA-NYC CREP - Cooperative Conservation America (CCA), Land Conservation Assistance Network. Cooperative Conservation case study: NYC Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
21 CCA-Illinois CREP - Cooperative Conservation America (CCA), Land Conservation Assistance Network. Cooperative Conservation case study: Illinois River Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
22 CCA-Missouri CREP - Cooperative Conservation America (CCA), Land Conservation Assistance Network. Cooperative Conservation case study: Missouri Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
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