NSAC's Blog

$15 Million Available for Wetland Conservation Partnerships

April 6, 2016

Photo credit: USDA

Photo credit: USDA

To some, marshes, swamps, and bogs may sound like troublesome obstacles to agricultural production. Conservation and sustainable farmers know, however, that these wetlands are more like “biological supermarkets”, as the Environmental Protection Agency calls them, than problems. Wetlands are rich with resources and provide numerous benefits to working lands and the natural habitats that surround them ­– they enhance and protect the wildlife on and around working lands, reduce the impacts of flooding, protect the watershed, and help mitigate the effects of climate change by capturing carbon in plants and soil. Through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hopes to work with producers to protect and restore these critical lands.

On Tuesday, April 5, USDA announced the availability of $15 million for wetland restoration partnerships with state and local governments, Indian tribes, and non-profit organizations in fiscal year 2016. Facilitated through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and a component of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), WREP connects public and private partners in an effort to develop mutually agreed upon goals that will help strengthen agricultural operations by protecting and restoring wetlands.

Through WREP, NRCS and partner entities run multi-year projects to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands and wildlife habitat. WREP partners are required to contribute financial and in-kind matches for assistance. These partners work directly with eligible landowners interested in enrolling their agricultural land into conservation wetland easements.

Proposals must be submitted to NRCS state offices by May 16, 2016.

Two types of funding are available through WREP for producers and partners:

Financial assistance (FA) is available for the restoration or management of existing wetland easements, as well as for the enrollment of new land under a permanent easement or a 30-year easement (or through a 30-year contract on acreage owned by Indian Tribes). For FA proposals, partners must provide in-kind and/or cash contributions of at least 25 percent of the easement, restoration, or management costs. Of the $15 million available in FY 2016, $13 million will be obligated for FA.

Second, technical assistance (TA) funds are available to partners to expedite closing, restoration or management design or planning, or monitoring of existing wetland easements. For TA proposals, partners are required to provide a match of at least 50 percent cash and/or in-kind services. Of the $15 million available in FY 2016, $2 million will be obligated for TA.

Partners must submit proposals to the appropriate State Conservationists and directors, who will then conduct an initial evaluation based on the following criteria:

  • 35 percent of the ranking points will be assigned based on an evaluation of the partner contribution, including in-kind contributions. To evaluate the partner contribution, NRCS will ask:
    • To what extent does the proposal significantly leverage non-federal financial and technical resources?
    • Does the proposal clearly describe outreach efforts to promote participation of beginning farmers or ranchers, socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers, and Indian tribes?
    • Does the proposal provide assurances of landowner participation, and has the applicant completed preliminary assessments of landowner interest within the proposed project area?
    • Does the proposal ensure the availability of the resources to be contributed to WREP projects, including all matching funds?
  • 15 percent of the ranking points will be assigned based on an evaluation of the partner’s capacity to facilitate the project and assess the outcomes. To evaluate the partner contribution, NRCS will ask:
    • Does the proposal demonstrate a history of working cooperatively with landowners either through successful completion of past projects or initiatives with landowners?
    • Does the proposal provide evidence that the restoration and enhancement activities will be completed within 2 years of closing the easement?
    • Does the proposal include a monitoring plan, and if so, what level of monitoring will be used?
  • The remaining 50 percent of the ranking points will be assigned based on an evaluation of the likely outcomes of the project. NRCS will ask:
    • Does the proposal specifically address helping participants meet local, state, and/or federal regulatory requirements?
    • Does the proposal have a high potential to improve habitat for migratory birds and other wetland-dependent wildlife?
    • Does the proposal identify direct benefits to wetland-dependent federal- or state-listed threatened and endangered species?
    • Does the proposal utilize innovative restoration methods and practices in a targeted fashion to facilitate maximizing the potential habitat benefits of the easement sites?
    • Does the proposal target landscapes that are likely to result in the enrollment of multi-functional wetland ecosystems and diverse wetland types?

You can download last year’s partnership agreement to see what a WREP agreement will look like.

For more information on eligibility and enrollment, visit our Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs.


Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment, Grants and Programs

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