January 29, 2016
In an effort to offset the widespread draining of wetlands for agricultural production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun to fund wetland “banks” to help landowners compensate for negative impacts made to wetlands on their properties. On Thursday, January 28, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service began soliciting proposals from states, local governments and other qualified entities to set up and expand wetland mitigation banks. Wetland mitigation banks are designed to help individuals and companies offset the negative environmental impacts of draining or filling wetlands. Farmers who choose to convert may buy “credits,” which will in turn fund the restoration, enhancement, or creation of other wetlands.
Mitigation banking is a helpful tool for producers who must convert natural wetlands. NSAC maintains, however, that it should only be used as a last resort, and that producers should first and foremost try to conserve rather than drain or fill natural wetlands.
USDA is making $9 million dollars available for qualified entities, such as state and local governments and non-governmental organizations, to create the new wetland mitigation banks. The maximum grant size for the project is $1 million. Support for this project comes out of $10 million provided by the 2014 Farm Bill; USDA is setting aside $1 million for administrative costs. The new wetland mitigation banks will be restricted to agricultural producers, which means farmers will not have to compete with developers or other outside interests to acquire credits.
USDA will prioritize projects located in the Prairie Pothole Region, California Vernal Pool Region, Nebraska Rainwater Basin Region, and other areas where large numbers of producers have asked USDA to determine whether they have wetlands on their properties.
Proposals may be submitted online through www.grants.gov, or by mail to USDA-NRCS, Wetland Mitigation Banking Program, P.O. Box 2890, Room 6160-S, Washington, D.C. 20013-2890. Project proposals are due to USDA before 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on March 28, 2016.
According to USDA’s Announcement of Program Funding (APF), individual producers who choose to drain or fill wetlands are not eligible to apply for USDA funding to help cover the cost of mitigation credits. This was one of NSAC’s primary recommendations to USDA as it was developing the new mitigation banking program. We appreciate USDA’s directive that new wetlands should generate the same ecological benefits as the original, converted wetlands. The APF states, “The producer mitigates the converted wetland and the associated lost wetland values, acreage, and functions…There may be instances in which additional acreage is needed to sufficiently mitigate the functions and values lost due to wetland conversion.” USDA also adopted NSAC’s recommendation that grantees develop a plan for long-term management, maintenance, and monitoring of mitigation sites.
Under the APF guidelines grant funding may be used for:
Proposals will be ranked based on applicant qualifications and management capacity (up to 35 ranking points), the extent to which the project will target geographic priority areas (up to 30 points), and an assessment of how the bank will be developed and operated (up to 35 points).
Download the APF to learn more about proposal requirements as well as the roles and responsibilities of bank operators and of USDA.