Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the nation's farmers, ranchers and Indian Tribes enrolled over 272,000 acres in the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) in fiscal year (FY) 2010. The FY 2010 enrollment is the highest single-year enrollment in the program's history and is a 52 percent increase over FY 2009 when 179,000 acres were enrolled. There are now more than 2.3 million acres enrolled in WRP nationwide.
"Through this historic enrollment in this proven conservation program, landowners and conservation partners are affirming their commitment to restoring and protecting the nation's wetland resources," said Vilsack. "Wetlands are essential to a healthy environment, and conservation-minded landowners are improving water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, mitigating floods and improving the overall environment for all Americans."
WRP, the federal government's largest wetlands restoration program, provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Indian Tribes to restore, protect and enhance wetlands that have been degraded or converted for agricultural uses. More than 80 percent of restorable wetlands are in private ownership. Participation in WRP is voluntary.
Estimated to have covered more than 220 million acres during colonial times, wetlands in the lower 48 states are now less than half that amount. Wetland losses in some states are more than 90 percent. More than 40 percent of federally listed species and over 50 percent of migratory birds require wetland habitats during some portion of their life cycle.
Through this program, marginal farm or ranchland is restored to its natural state. Potential flood damage to farms and ranches is reduced and vital wetland ecosystems are restored and protected.
How WRP is helping farmers:
• Two Louisiana neighbors in East Carroll Parish were looking for ways to improve their farms operations-both financially and environmentally when they decided to enter their marginal farmland into WRP. The program payments gave them the financial security to invest more funds into their operations for animal health and land improvements. This voluntary restoration effort will continue to improve water quality and enhance habitat for migratory birds in the Mississippi River Basin for years to come.
• One California landowner in Colusa County signed up for WRP when farming on his flood-prone land was no longer profitable to his operation. WRP provided easement and wetland restoration payments for the marginal farmland that he greatly needed to sustain a profitable operation. This project provided an opportunity for the landowner to reduce his financial burden, while providing much needed space for waterfowl and other wildlife species; reducing negative impacts from flooding; and increasing opportunities for recreational activities.
• In Bedford County, VA, WRP is helping one farm family address water quality concerns, which will ultimately improve animal health, and enhance wildlife habitat on their livestock operation. A total of 11 acres were enrolled into the WRP, including two vulnerable streams that ran across the property. With technical and financial assistance from WRP, fencing will be installed to prevent cattle access to the wetland area, thus reducing sediments and nutrient runoff into the stream; and native hardwood trees will be planted to enhance habitat for birds and other wildlife.
WRP is administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In fiscal year 2010, NRCS restored 129,000 acres of wetlands on lands enrolled in WRP. NRCS offers WRP enrollment to private landowners and Indian Tribes on a continuous sign-up basis. The agency provides financial and technical assistance to eligible landowners and invests in wetland protection and restoration activities. For more information, landowners can contact their local NRCS Service Center or visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp.