February 8, 2013
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has given state NRCS offices the green light to begin accepting producer applications for the FY 2013 Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) sign up. States will establish their own application deadlines. Some state offices have already begun to accept applications.
It is not yet precisely clear how many new acres will be enrolled in the program this fiscal year. This will depend on guidance (called an apportionment) that the agency received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Once USDA receives the apportionment, they will determine how much money can be spent on new enrollments and how much can be spent on wait-listed acres.
The agency expects it will be able to enroll a total of about 125,000 acres, some of which will be from new applicants, and some from the existing WRP wait list. The wait list includes farmers and landowners with approved contracts that are just waiting on funding to be available. USDA will also put some of the remaining money in the WRP account toward restoration projects on existing WRP acres.
Unlike with WRP, NRCS is likely to use what limited farm bill money is left over for the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) in FY 2013 to enroll applicants solely off the GRP wait list. We do not expect NRCS to request new GRP applications in FY 2013.
As a reminder, both WRP and GRP, absent a new farm bill, are in their final year of having any significant funds left to obligate. Without action by Congress, they will disappear. The WRP, one of the first successful advocacy campaigns of NSAC, is now 20 years old and has restored over 2.6 million acres of wetlands. Losing one of the most successful programs in the federal conservation portfolio would be criminal.
The farm bills that were acted on in 2012 but did not become law would have melded several conservation easements programs together into a consolidated program, continuing the functions of these programs with renewed and more permanent funding. Congress will hopefully adopt that plan or otherwise find a way to restore the WRP this year.