The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant that was awarded to Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District provided funding for 10 projects that would develop whole field solutions. As part of these projects the wetlands are restored to the extent possible and protected through either an Agriculture Land Easement (ALE) or Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE). Both easement options are part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agriculture Conservation Easement Program. The ALE easements are held by the respective Natural Resources Districts where the tract is located, while the Wetland Reserve Easements are held by Natural Resources Conservation Service. The ALE easements are more flexible than traditional easements as producers get to make a decision on future land use. The ALE easement allows producers the option to continue cropping the wetland acres or transition the restored wetland to forage production for grazing or haying. The WRE option is the more traditional NRCS wetland easement with wetland and grassland establishment.
As part of this, RCPP five ALE easements have closed in the last six months. Four of the five easements the producers have opted to continue cropping the restored wetland acres. This is a unique opportunity to address shorebird habitat losses that have occurred over the years as we have restored farmed wetlands to more persistent wetlands through the WRE and other conservation programs. Special thanks to the local Natural Resources Districts that have agreed to hold easements, Ducks Unlimited for working directly with the landowners to get them enrolled, and NRCS staff to help us complete all of the necessary paperwork for these easements. Looking forward to using these projects as a proof of concept and replicating this work in the future.