Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on 7th July 2016 that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $44.6 million through its Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership to support 10 wetland enhancement projects on private and tribal agricultural lands in 12 States. Recipients for each project are providing more than $4.3 million in matching funds, bringing the total investment to approximately $49 million. In total, the projects will help to protect, restore or enhance 15,000 acres of wetlands in critical watersheds across the United States.
“USDA is committed to protecting and enhancing our nation’s wetlands, which are critical to the quality of our nation’s waters, wildlife and landscapes,” said Vilsack. “By collaborating with private partners at the local and regional level, USDA is able to support innovative conservation solutions and expand the amount of dedicated resources. These are high-impact projects that will ensure our land and water resources are healthy now and for the next generation.”
The Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). WREP helps States, local governments, Tribes and other organizations collaborate with NRCS to work with private and Tribal landowners to voluntarily enroll eligible land into conservation easements that protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their property. WREP is a special enrollment option under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
Wetland reserve easements enable landowners to successfully reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater, enhance and protect wildlife habitat and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. The voluntary nature of NRCS easement programs allows effective integration of wetland restoration on agricultural land, providing benefits to farmers and ranchers who enroll in the program, as well as benefits to the local and rural communities where the wetlands exist.
Projects announced today bring together partners leveraging technical and financial resources to address local concerns, such as water quality and flooding. Since 2009 private landowners, tribes and entities like land trusts and conservation organizations have enrolled nearly 1.3 million acres in NRCS wetland easement programs for a total NRCS investment of $3.2 billion in financial and technical assistance.
The announcement includes projects in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.
A full list of projects funded is available on the WREP website. Examples include:
Iowa: Partners will address both long-term wetland restoration in the Prairie Pothole Region and assist flood-affected landowners in the Iowa and Cedar River watersheds. The partnership will protect and restore up to 580 acres of prairie pothole wetlands and associated tallgrass prairie uplands on five sites within Prairie Pothole Joint Venture Priority Areas and Ducks Unlimited Living Lakes Initiative Emphasis Areas. Partner contributions will nearly double the acres of wetlands that will be protected and restored. NRCS plans to invest $3 million in this project.
Louisiana: Over the next three years, partners will enroll up to 2,100 acres of new conservation easements in seven Mississippi River Basin Initiative watersheds. Benefits to the region include increasing habitat for fish and wildlife, improving water quality by reducing nutrient and pesticide application, reducing flooding, recharging ground water and providing outdoor recreational opportunities. Significant wildlife benefits include restoration of critical habitat for the Louisiana black bear, migratory waterfowl and wetland-dependent wildlife. Special consideration will be given to historically underserved producers. NRCS plans to invest $5.1 million in this project.
New Hampshire: Due to projected increases in housing density by 2030, the U.S. Forest Service identified the Merrimack and Piscataqua-Salmon Falls River Watersheds as two of the most threatened watersheds in the nation. The goal of this project is to permanently protect, enhance and restore approximately 500 acres of wetlands, floodplains, riparian areas and upland forests in this rapidly developing area. The project will target priority wildlife habitat for the state-endangered Blanding’s turtle and New England cottontail as well as critical water resources providing multiple benefits to local communities. NRCS plans to invest $1.6 million in this project.
Tennessee: Partners in six states will enroll an additional 5,000 acres in conservation easements to improve water quality, expand habitat for federally protected species, reduce soil erosion and provide additional outdoor recreation opportunities. This is the third phase of work begun in 2012 that is on track to enroll more than 20,000 acres by 2019. The project area includes portions of 35 counties/parishes bordering the Mississippi River in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. NRCS plans to invest almost $12.2 million in this project.