WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced an investment of $48 million in wetland conservation projects in eight states through its Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP), implemented through USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). WREP project partners are providing nearly $2.3 million in matching funds, bringing the total investment to more than $50 million.
In total, the projects will protect, restore and enhance more than 15,000 acres of wetlands in critical watersheds across the nation. These partners work directly with eligible landowners interested in enrolling their agricultural land into wetland conservation easements.
“These locally-led partnerships are a powerful way to leverage resources to ensure wetland conservation through high impact projects,” said NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr. “The projects will address long-term wetland restoration and assist flood-affected landowners in the identified watersheds.”
Wetland reserve easements enable landowners to successfully reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater, enhance and protect wildlife habitat and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. The voluntary nature of the NRCS easement programs enables effective integration of wetland restoration on working landscapes.
Today’s announcement includes high-priority watershed projects in Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. NRCS evaluated proposals based upon partner contributions, the ability to address resource concerns within NRCS designated special initiative areas and expected benefits to agricultural producers impacted by record flooding over the past year.
Lower Mississippi River Batture Project – Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee: Land and water management in the active floodplain of the Lower Mississippi, commonly called the “batture,” can be difficult. The goal is to help landowners establish a more sustainable management approach by removing the land from agricultural production, which will also provide ecological, economic and societal benefits. The project constitutes the fifth phase of a continuing effort that began in 2012. Efforts to date under the first four phases have resulted in closed easements or easements pending closure on over 23,000 acres of private land in the project area.
Dog Tooth Bend Project – Illinois: A diverse wetland and floodplain habitat is essential for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife. In addition to beneficial habitat, the project will improve water quality in the area and the greater Mississippi River Basin by reducing nutrients and sediments via restoration. It will also serve to abate flooding on the Mississippi River by storing water and to provide relief to landowners who have experienced prolonged flooding and repetitive crop losses.
South Skunk River Wetlands Initiative Project – Iowa: The Mississippi River and its tributaries have seen persistent and increasingly severe flooding, loss of off-channel wetland wildlife habitats and impaired water quality. Easement enrollment will be focused within three proposed project locations located within NRCS’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative, including watersheds considered impaired because of high levels of nutrients.
Tri-State Project – Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi: The purpose of this project is to utilize the partnering strength of the Tri-state Conservation Partnership (TCP) to focus on restoration of forested wetlands while specifically targeting priority watersheds of the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative. The project will address the three primary natural resource concerns for the Mississippi River Basin: water quality, water quantity and wildlife habitat, including creating or enhancing beneficial habitat for migratory waterfowl, wetland-dependent wildlife and federal or state listed endangered or threatened species.
With the help of NRCS wetland easements, private landowners, tribes and conservation partners have enrolled nearly 3 million acres through 15,600 agreements since 1995.
Visit NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program webpage to learn more about the agency’s wetland conservation opportunities.
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