The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture and partners work with agriculture producers and other landowners to restore or enhance wetland habitat on private land, and to potentially enhance the income from marginally productive acres. The goal of wetland habitat projects is not to take land out of production, but to get more from each acre of marginal land: more wildlife habitat, more wetland benefits, and potentially more income for your operation.
The following list provides a general overview of several types of projects, including cost-share information. Most projects, but not all, include ten-year agreements. However, every producer, operation, and piece of ground is unique, so no two wetland projects are the same. A successful project is one that meets your goals while also helping wildlife. We invite you to contact the Joint Venture to discuss your goals and consider how we might work together.
Working Lands Initiative: The RWBJV and partners seek to increase cattle grazing on wetlands in the Rainwater Basin. Wetland/grassland pastures provide valuable livestock forage or lease income for a landowner, while also providing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. A number of options exist for grazing projects, which vary widely in duration and complexity; for example:
Working Lands Grazing Projects: Participating landowners receive 85% cost-share assistance on fencing and up to 85% cost-share assistance for well development to make a wetland area viable for livestock grazing. Through a ten-year agreement, the landowner receives technical assistance and cost-share incentives for management actions that will benefit wildlife habitat through grazing.
Working Lands Grassland/Wetland Restoration Easements: Converting marginal cropland or an abandoned wetland to grazing land may include restoring the wetland and planting native seed on the surrounding upland. Such a transition is costly, so Joint Venture partners offer several forms of assistance.
For interested producers, RWBJV partners have a variety of easement options. The landowner and RWBJV work together to develop an easement that is compatible with the needs of the operation. Depending on the easement, unrestricted grazing, haying, and recreational activity may be permitted, but the easement would generally prevent cropping, development, or alteration of the wetland. The easement may be held by a Natural Resources District, a conservation organization, or a state or federal wildlife agency.
In addition, landowners may apply to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s EQIP program for grass seeding cost-share and an annual transition payment.
Pit Removal: Through the RWBJV Watershed Initiative, cost-share may be available to fill unneeded reuse pits in order to improve water levels in nearby wetlands. Eligible pits are located in the watersheds of Waterfowl Production Areas, Wildlife Management Areas, and other priority wetlands in the Rainwater Basin.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Wetlands Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE): Administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wetlands Reserve easements offer assistance to landowners who want to restore and protect wetlands on their land.
NRCS provides financial and technical assistance to restore, protect, and enhance eligible wetlands through the purchase of a Wetlands Reserve easement. For a permanent easement, NRCS pays 100% of the easement value and 75-100% of wetland restoration costs. For 30-year easements, NRCS pays 50-75% of the easement value, and 50-75% of restoration costs. Certain rights purchased with a wetlands reserve easement, such as grazing and haying, can be granted back to a landowner through a compatible use authorization if the land use will improve or maintain suitable wildlife habitat.
ACEP-WRE offers a Reserved Grazing Rights enrollment option. Participants retain the right to graze enrolled lands according to an approved grazing plan. The easement payment is reduced to 75% of a standard permanent or 30-year easement. In addition, NRCS pays 50-75% of restoration costs under a 30-year easement, or 75-100% under a permanent easement.
Short-term Vegetation Management: Landowners may request assistance from Joint Venture partners to manage invasive wetland plants, including trees, cattail, river bulrush, or reed canary grass. Under a negotiated-length agreement, a landowner may agree to allow management activities such as: disking, haying/shredding, silt removal, chemical application, or tree removal.
Restoration and Management Projects: Subject to a ten-year agreement, RWBJV partners provide financial incentives to restore wetland function through pit filling, ditch plugs, water control structures, tree removal, vegetation management, etc. The native plant community is restored on non-cropped areas. The landowner receives a per-acre land-use payment for the restored area.
The producer may continue to farm previously cropped ground. Center pivots may be used, provided wheel crossings do not impair wetland function. In addition, the producer has the option to be paid for performing prescribed management – such as disking, haying, and chemical applications – or contracting the work, with assistance from the Joint Venture. Grazing the wetland is encouraged.
Seasonal Habitat Improvement Projects (SHIP): SHIP is designed for drained and cropped wetlands. The land remains in production during the growing season, but serves as migratory bird habitat during the non-growing season, when water is allowed to pond in the wetland soil area. A ten-year agreement provides for installation of a water control structure and associated dirt work.
The landowner, in consultation with Joint Venture partners, determines an acceptable pool level, based on topography, which thus determines the number of acres covered by the annual land-use payment.
RWBJV Cost-Share Incentives: The RWBJV and partners encourage certain practices in combination with other projects, or on their own. Cost-share may be available for these activities if they benefit migratory bird habitat or improve the function of a priority wetland. A ten-year contract is required. Eligible practices may include, but are not limited to:
CRP Wetland Restoration Incentive Bonus: This is a one-time signing bonus, funded by RWBJV partners, to promote enrollment and full restoration of Rainwater Basin wetlands under USDA’s CRP wetland restoration program, CP-23A. Land enrolled in CP-23A (including CREP) is eligible for the incentive if the wetland hydrology is fully restored.
This incentive is a one-time payment of up to $500 per acre, payable on March 31 following completion of the restoration. All acres enrolled in the CRP CP-23A – wetlands and uplands – are eligible for the payment if the hydrology is restored; payment is pro rata, based on the number of years remaining in the contract.
Hydrology Restoration Program: This full-restoration initiative targets temporary and seasonal wetlands under 20 acres whose hydrology is severely altered (e.g., by drains or pits). Only high-priority wetlands, as defined by the RWBJV Wetland Prioritization Model, are eligible.
Under terms of a ten-year agreement, RWBJV partners provide financial and technical assistance to restore the wetland. The landowner receives annual land-use payments, which begin once restoration is complete. Cropping may continue on previously cropped land; grazing of the wetland is encouraged.