Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) is a supplementary program of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the largest 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 other federal and state incentives (USDA-FSA CREP, Khanna 2009*).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased wildlife habitat

  • Reduced soil erosion

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved soil quality

  • Reduced run-off

  • Improved water quality

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is some evidence that the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) increases wildlife habitat (ONeal 2008*, Sharpley 2009*, Allen 2005, Wilson 2010*) and reduces soil erosion (Khanna 2003*, Khanna 2009*). Studies of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which includes CREP, also show improvements to wildlife habitat (Gleason 2011) and reductions in soil erosion (Smith 2011). Additional evidence is needed to confirm CREP’s effects.

CREP and CRP both establish perennial ground cover that improves wildlife habitat and water quality (Sharpley 2009*). Program benefits can vary widely, and are often dependent on landowner cooperation and the conservation practices used; practices vary by ecosystem and wildlife species (Khanna 2009*). 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 erosion (Khanna 2009*).

In a 2010 report to Congress, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) estimates that CRP, including CREP, reduced erosion by more than 454 million tons per year, restored 2 million acres of wetlands and 2.5 million acres of buffers, established 3.2 million acres of wildlife habitat, planted 2.7 million acres of trees, and reduced the application of nitrogen (by 681,000 tons) and phosphorus (by 104,000 tons) (CRS-Cowan 2010). 

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

CREP has approved agreements in 31 states (USDA-FSA CREP). FSA estimates that in 2013, 25.6 million acres were enrolled in CRP, including about 1.3 million acres of CREP enrollment (USDA-FSA Statistics).

There are several success stories among state CREP agreements, in particular, CREP agreements have significantly helped improve New York City’s watershed and drinking water, improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay, and mitigate flooding in Washington State (USDA-FSA CREP).

Implementation Resources

USDA-FSA State success stories - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency (FSA). Conservation Reserve Program. Conservation success stories: select a state.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

ONeal 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.

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.

Allen 2005 - Allen AW, Vandever MW, eds. The conservation reserve program - Planting for the future: Proceedings of a national conference, Ft. Collins, CO, June 6-9, 2004. Washington, DC: US Department of the Interior (DOI), US Geological Survey (USGS); 2005.

Wilson 2010* - Wilson A, Brittingham M, Grove G. Association of wintering raptors with conservation reserve enhancement program grasslands in Pennsylvania. Journal of Field Ornithology. 2010;81(4):361-372.

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.

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.

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.

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.

CRS-Cowan 2010 - Cowan T. Conservation reserve program: Status and current issues. Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report to Congress, RS21613. 2010.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

USDA-FSA CREP - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency (FSA). Conservation programs: Conservation reserve enhancement program (CREP).

USDA-FSA Statistics - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Farm Service Agency (FSA). Conservation reserve programs reports and statistics.

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