06/26 - USDA Seeks Partner Proposals to Protect and Restore Critical Wetlands in Nebraska

LINCOLN, June 26, 2015 – Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Craig Derickson announced today the availability of $17.5 million in financial and technical assistance nationwide to help eligible conservation partners voluntarily protect, restore and enhance critical wetlands on private and tribal agricultural lands.

“USDA has leveraged partnerships to accomplish a great deal on America’s wetlands over the past two decades,” Derickson said. “This year’s funding will help strengthen these partnerships and achieve greater wetland acreage in Nebraska and throughout the nation.”

Proposal funding will be provided through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP), a special enrollment option under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s Wetland Reserve Easement component. It is administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Proposals must be submitted to NRCS state offices by July 31, 2015.

Under WREP, states, local units of governments, non-governmental organizations and American Indian tribes collaborate with USDA through cooperative and partnership agreements. These partners work with willing tribal and private landowners who voluntarily enroll eligible land into easements to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their property. WREP was created through the 2014 Farm Bill and was formerly known as the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.

According to Derickson, Nebraska has had success with restoring wetlands in partnership agreements through WREP.

“NRCS has worked with several partners, including the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, Nebraska Environmental Trust, Nebraska Association of Resources Districts and Nebraska Game and Parks, to develop WREP projects in Nebraska.

“For example, from 2010 to 2013 NRCS had a WREP project in the rainwater basin wetland area in central Nebraska where 840 acres were enrolled in long-term conservation easements. This project helped restore habitat for thousands of ducks and geese that will use the restored wetlands each year during their annual migration. These sites also protect habitat for the threatened and endangered whooping crane,” Derickson said.

Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. The voluntary nature of NRCS' easement programs allows effective integration of wetland restoration on working landscapes, 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 can range from individual to watershed-wide to ecosystem-wide.  Under a similar program in the 2008 Farm Bill, NRCS and its partners entered into 272 easements that enrolled more than 44,020 acres of wetlands from 2009 through 2013. The new collaborative WREP will build on those successes by providing the financial and technical assistance necessary for states, non-governmental organizations and tribes to leverage resources to restore and protect wetlands and wildlife habitat.

Through WREP, NRCS will sign multi-year agreements with partners to leverage resources, including funding, to achieve maximum wetland restoration, protection and enhancement and to create optimum wildlife habitat on enrolled acres. WREP partners are required to contribute a funding match for financial or technical assistance. These partners work directly with eligible landowners interested in enrolling their agricultural land into conservation wetland easements.

Today’s announcement builds on the roughly $332 million USDA has announced this year to protect and restore agricultural working lands, grasslands and wetlands.  Collectively, NRCS’ easement programs help productive farm, ranch and tribal lands remain in agriculture and protect the nation's critical wetlands and grasslands, home to diverse wildlife and plant species. Under the former Wetlands Reserve Program, private landowners, tribes and entities such as land trusts and conservation organizations enrolled 2.7 million acres through 14,500 agreements for a total NRCS and partner investment of $4.3 billion in financial and technical assistance.

Visit NRCS’ Agricultural Conservation Easement Program webpage to learn more about NRCS’ wetland conservation options.