WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $11 million in five Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) projects to bring together partners and landowners to voluntarily return critical wetland functions to agricultural landscapes. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is funding two new projects and providing additional funding to three existing ones that prioritize high-impact projects and provide assistance to historically underserved farmers and ranchers. These partnerships are part of USDA’s broader efforts to mitigate climate change by restoring wetlands while also prioritizing assistance to underserved communities.
“Wetlands protection and restoration is a key component of our strategy to address climate change, and partnerships are essential to this work,” NRCS Chief Terry Cosby said. “This year, we focused our investments on projects that support historically underserved landowners, who we know face significant barriers in accessing USDA assistance for conservation. Our partners provide a direct link to these communities, and these projects will expand conservation opportunities.”
New projects include:
- The Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, which seeks to enroll approximately 4,000 acres, of which 42% will be specifically targeted for historically underserved landowners. This project area is in the Long County Wildlife Corridor Protection Area, much of which adjoins the Altamaha River and contains high-priority habitat. The project area includes significant impaired wetlands and numerous high-priority species.
- The Athens Land Trust, which seeks to enroll 120 acres; 100% is targeted at historically underserved landowners. The project prioritizes outreach areas in East Georgia with the goal of restoring and protecting wetlands needing biodiversity protection, improved water quality, increased flood buffer capacity, decreased erosion and enhanced carbon sequestration.
Ongoing projects which have received additional funding include:
- The Tri-State partnership, led by the Nature Conservancy, which seeks to enroll an additional 1,500 acres of wetlands as part of a multi-year effort in the project area. A minimum of 750 acres (50%) will be specifically targeted for enrollment of historically underserved landowners. This project focuses on restoration of forested wetlands within priority portions of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
- The Lower Batture, led by the Mississippi River Trust, seeks to enroll 2,000 acres. A minimum of 250 acres (approximately 12.5%) will be specifically targeted for historically underserved landowner enrollment. This additional funding will expand the original project area along the lower Mississippi River to continue more sustainable land and water management in the river’s active floodplain and nearby flood-prone lands in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
- The Lower Wabash River & White River Oxbow project in Indiana and Illinois, led by The Nature Conservancy, seeks to enroll 1,000 acres. This project aims to build on existing efforts of local partnerships between NRCS, The Nature Conservancy and the Conservation Law Center to enroll historically underserved landowners in the historic Lyle’s Station area, which was settled in the early 1800’s and is one of the last remaining Black American settlements in the state. The project focus is to reduce nutrient export from the Wabash River and to improve important habitat around priority oxbow lakes for monarch butterflies, migratory birds and large river fish species.
How WREP Works
WREP is part of the Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) component of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). WREP enables local conservation partners to provide their leadership and expertise to assist NRCS with acquiring and restoring private wetlands that have been previously altered for agricultural production, through targeting project areas and providing services to accomplish shared objectives in those areas.
Partners work with individual landowners to enroll in WRE which enable them to remove marginal agricultural land from production to return it to its historic state.
WREP enables effective integration of wetland restoration on working agricultural landscapes, providing meaningful benefits to farmers and ranchers who enroll in the program and to communities.
Restoring wetland ecosystems help filter sediments and chemicals to improve water quality downstream, enhance wildlife and aquatic habitat, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and offers recreational benefits. Wetlands may also serve as carbon sinks by sequestering and storing carbon from the atmosphere, an ecosystem function that supports climate change mitigation across private lands.
More information about the WREP program is available on the WREP webpage.