July 21, 2017
Wetland Reserve Easements, like those funded as part of the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP), provide private landowners with the resources they need to help protect and conserve vulnerable wetlands. Funding from WREP enables landowners to reduce the impact of flooding, enhance and conserve wildlife habitat, improve groundwater quality, and create space for outdoor recreational activities.
Announcement of New Projects
Yesterday, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that WREP would award $15 million in partnership grants across seven states: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. This funding will support conservation efforts in high-priority watersheds across the nation; in total, these WREP-supported projects will help to protect, restore or enhance over 25,000 acres of vulnerable wetlands. WREP contributed $13 million of the funding for these grant awards, and private project partners contributed an additional $2 million. These partners (often state governments and non-profit organizations) work directly with landowners that are interested in enrolling their agricultural land into the program.
WREP is authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill as a special enrollment option within the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). The program is administered by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). State, local, and tribal landowners can work with NRCS to on a voluntarily basis to enroll eligible land into conservation easements on their property through WREP. More information on the program, including eligibility, can be found on the NRCS Website.
Upcoming Farm Bill
Beginning in fiscal year 2018, funding for ACEP will drop precipitously, from $500 million per year to $250 million per year. Even at $500 million, demand for the program is so high that NRCS can only fund one quarter of the easement applications that it receives. This problem is particularly severe for wetland easements, which tend to be more costly and require more active restoration than other types of easements. Heading into the next farm bill, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coaliti0n (NSAC) will work to ensure that ACEP has the funding it needs to adequately invest in farmer-led wetland conservation and restoration.