LINCOLN, Oct. 23, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will award $30 million to projects in six states - including Nebraska - to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on private and tribal agricultural lands. The projects are funded under the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP), a program authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
The Rainwater Basin – a wetland complex located in south central Nebraska – is one of the six areas in the nation that will receive this USDA funding. The application was submitted by the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture, an organization that works with landowners, organizations and conservation agencies to restore wetlands within the Rainwater Basin.
Craig Derickson, Nebraska State Conservationist with NRCS wasn’t surprised to see Nebraska on the short list of funding recipients.
“Nebraska has a strong conservation partnership. We have been working with producers in the Rainwater Basin and with the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture for nearly 25 years to help restore and protect critical wetland habitat.
“The funding available through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership program is a perfect fit for the work being done within the Rainwater Basin by targeting locally led conservation efforts that can have a global impact on waterfowl populations,” Derickson said.
The WREP Project in Nebraska will build on the success of two previous WREP projects to acquire and restore the state’s playa wetlands and mixed-grass prairie buffers. By modifying irrigation and grazing practices, this project will provide a unique twist on traditional easements with innovative partner input that links production agriculture land with conservation easements. NRCS plans to invest $1.7 million in this project through the WREP program.
Created by the 2014 Farm Bill, WREP is a special enrollment option under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s Wetland Reserve Easement component. Through WREP, states, local units of governments, non-governmental organizations and American Indian tribes collaborate with NRCS through cooperative and partnership agreements. These partners work with tribal and private landowners who voluntarily enroll eligible land into easements to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their properties.
Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their land, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreation and educational opportunities. The voluntary nature of NRCS's 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.
WREP partners 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.
The WREP project funding builds on the more than $330 million USDA announced in fiscal year 2015 to protect and restore agricultural working lands, grasslands and wetlands. Collectively, NRCS easement programs help productive farm, ranch and tribal lands continue in agricultural production and protect the nation's critical wetlands and grasslands that are important to water supplies and 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 have 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.
NRCS also awarded grants for wetland projects in Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Visit NRCS's Agricultural Conservation Easement Program website to learn more about NRCS's wetland conservation opportunities.