The Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) is a special option in the NRCS’s Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). This option allows producers to retain water rights and the option to pass their pivot over restored wetland and upland acres enrolled in the program. NRCS ACEP Team 5 oversees delivery of this program in the Rainwater Basin Wetland Complex (RWB). This team comprises NRCS biologists and engineers, and benefits from the support of private lands biologists at Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the RWBJV office, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This year, Team 5 has been very busy closing 12 easements, developing restoration plans, and completing restorations of several sites. The easements will perpetually protect 873 acres of RWB wetlands and associated uplands. NRCS provided $2.2 million in funding to acquire these easements.
To help support this project the RWBJV partnership applied for, and was awarded, two Nebraska Environmental Trust grants. These grants provide cost-share assistance for project elements that are not eligible for Natural Resources Conservation Service cost-share. The elements include perimeter fence, livestock watering facilities, pivot bridges, and flotation tires to ensure the pivot can cross the wetland without negatively impacting hydrology of the restored wetland.
The approach that the team is taking is to complete restorations to make the site is cow-ready. Having the appropriate grazing infrastructure and pivot modifications ensures the site can be seamlessly integrated into a producer’s operation. Good fences and reliable livestock water reduce the potential for cattle to get into adjacent cropland and reduce maintenance. Having grazing as a viable management tool ensures the landowners are actively working with Team 5 members to manage for forage production and promote desired habitat conditions for migrating waterfowl and other wetland dependent birds that rely on RWB wetlands.