Arkansas Receives USDA Wetlands Funding

Arkansas Receives USDA Wetlands Funding

Arkansas Game & Fish Commission
Arkansas Game & Fish Commission

WASHINGTON, DC –-(Ammoland.com)- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced funding for the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Wetlands Reserve Program that will add an expected 75,000 additional acres to the approximately 2.2 million acres currently enrolled in the program. The funding will go to wetland conservation projects in Arkansas, 21 other states and Puerto Rico.

The funding availability announced today totals nearly $175 million. Arkansas is receiving $10,177,680 for the program.

“Healthy wetlands play several critical roles in protecting our environment, including improving water quality, preventing flooding and soil erosion, and creating and maintaining the best possible wildlife habitat,” said Vilsack. “Farmers, ranchers and other private landowners play a critical role in protecting our wetlands, and the funding announced today will provide even more opportunities to maximize wetland values and ensure that these important natural resources survive for generations to come.”

“Arkansas is second in the nation in WRP wetland restoration with more than 200,000 acres restored,” said Mike Sullivan, state conservationist. “We are particularly interested in restoring bottomland hardwoods and hydrology in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, the majority of which lies in our state, and in the Red River and Arkansas River valleys.”

Wetlands are areas saturated by water all or most of a year. Often called “nature's kidneys,” wetlands naturally filter contaminants out of water. Wetlands also recharge groundwater, prevent flooding and soil erosion, and slow the flow of water that runs across the surface of the land.

Funded through the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill) WRP is a voluntary program that helps landowners address wetland and wildlife natural resource concerns on private lands. WRP participants limit their future use of the land, but retain private ownership.

WRP offers permanent easements that pay 100 percent of the value of an easement and up to 100 percent of easement restoration costs, and 30-year easements that pay up to 75 percent of the value of an easement and up to 75 percent of easement restoration costs. WRP also offers restoration cost-share agreements to restore wetland functions and values without placing an easement on enrolled acres; NRCS pays up to 75 percent of restoration costs.

According to David Long, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s private lands coordinator, the assistance is very good news for farmers, landowners, society and our wildlife resources in The Natural State.

“This $10 million can translate into over 9,200 acres of wetland restoration and protection in Arkansas,” Long said.

For a permanent easement under WRP, landowners receive $1,100 per acre with NRCS paying 100 percent of the restoration cost, leaving the landowner with a wetland design that will provide premium wildlife habitat and protection of water resources from now on, Long explained.

“NRCS also offers a 30-year easement which pays $825 per acre and 75 percent of the restoration cost,” he said. “However, the majority of landowners enrolling have opted for the permanent easement for the higher payment and to have all of the restoration cost paid,” Long noted.

Long said that this easement payment has been very attractive, especially to row-crop farmers with marginally productive cropland acres that frequently flood, are hard to irrigate or in most years have low crop yields.

“There are more than 200,000 acres of these marginally productive croplands out across the Delta of Arkansas that are eligible for enrollment in WRP. Retiring these marginal croplands saves the farmer from crop losses and yearly input cost on these unproductive cropland acres in fuel, seed, fertilizer, labor and chemicals while at the same time, provides huge wildlife benefits for future generations to enjoy,” Long explained. “With the increase in flooding problems in cropland areas in the state over the last several years, more and more farmers are looking at ways to improve and stabilize their financial bottom line by taking these higher risk croplands out of production through WRP payments,” Long added.

Once wetland restoration is complete, within a few years WRP acres become magnets for waterfowl, which can provide additional recreational opportunities for the landowner through hunting, Long says.

“Usually within a few more years these wetlands designed with a mix of hardwood trees and shallow water habitat, provide all of the habitat components to attract deer, turkey, rabbits and a host of wading and song birds,” he said.

Basically, these WRP acres harbor a huge mix of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, creating awesome recreational and wildlife viewing opportunities, Long said.

“Many WRP landowners find this premium wildlife habitat can be leased out for additional farm income to hunters and others looking for a quality outdoor experience,” Long concluded.

For additional information about WRP, please visit http://www.ar.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp.html. To sign up for the program visit the local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service field service center.

For information about other NRCS conservation programs, visit: www.nrcs.usda.gov, or visit the nearest USDA Service Center in your area. 2010 represents the 75th year of NRCS “helping people help the land.” Since its inception in 1935, the NRCS conservation delivery system has advanced a unique partnership with state and local governments and private landowners delivering conservation based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating state and national interests.

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