by Whitney Flach
The USDA is awarding $44.6 million through its Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership to support 10 wetland enhancement projects on private and tribal agricultural lands in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington and Wisconsin.
The projects will help to protect, restore, or enhance 15,000 wetland acres in critical watersheds across the United States. Recipients for each project are providing more than $4.3 million in matching funds, bringing the total investment to approximately $49 million.
Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture says, “USDA is committed to protecting and enhancing our nation’s wetlands, which are critical to the quality of our nation’s waters, wildlife and landscapes.” Vilsack explains, “By collaborating with private partners at the local and regional level, USDA is able to support innovative conservation solutions, and expand the amount of dedicated resources. These are high impact projects that will ensure our land and water resources are healthy now and for the next generation.”
The Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) helps states, local governments, tribes, and other organizations collaborate with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to work with private and Tribal landowners to voluntarily enroll eligible land into conservation easements that protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their property. NRCS easement programs allows effective integration of wetland restoration on agricultural land, 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.
In Iowa, the partnership will protect and restore up to 580 acres of prairie pothole wetlands and associated tallgrass prairie uplands on five sites within Prairie Pothole Joint Venture Priority Areas, and Ducks Unlimited Living Lakes Initiative Emphasis Areas. In Iowa, partners will address long-term wetland restoration in the prairie potholes region, and assist flood-affected landowners in the Iowa and Cedar River watersheds. Partner contributions will nearly double the acres of wetlands that will be protected and restored. NRCS plans to invest $3 million in this project.