Conserving Natural Resources for our Future

St. Johns Soil & Water Conservation District

Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)

Restores and Protects Wetlands on Private Property, Providing Financial Incentives to Enhance Wetlands in Exchange for Retiring Agricultural Land.


 

The WRP helps farmers and other landowners take agricultural lands out of production and restore them as wetlands. The program is administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with assistance from the State Technical Committees. The NRCS provides technical information about restoring wetlands and financial assistance for conservation measures. There are three enrollment options: a permanent easement, a 30-year easement, or a restoration agreement. Under all three options, the landowner retains ownership of the land; remains responsible for taxes; controls access; and reserves the right to hunt, fish, trap and pursue other appropriate recreational usese; and may sell or lease land enrolled in WRP. Other uses may be permitted providing NRCS determines the use is compatible with the restoration and protection of the wetland. If NRCS approves your offer for a:

  • Permanent easement - The government will provide an easement payment based on the lesser of the appraised value of the land, a geographic rate cap, or an amount offered by the landowner. The government will pay 100 percent of the restoration costs and the administrative costs associated with filing the easement (survey costs, legal fees, recording fees, etc.).
  • 30-year easement - The government will provide an easement payment that is 75 percent of the amount that would have been made for a permanent easement, up to 75 percent of the restoration costs and all of the administrative costs associated with filing the easement.
  • 10-year restoration agreement - The government will provide up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
Project Examples

Examples of situations appropriate for the WRP include:

 

  • On the Mississippi delta floodplain in Louisiana, one farmer cultivated rice in a zone of ridge and swale topography with heavy clay soil. The drainage to the Mississippi river had been blocked and water often backed up, flooding the field, resulting in no harvest or inability to even plant during some wet years. The WRP agreement was to restore the hydrology of 640 acres by installing small dikes and outlets at the swales creating shallow water areas. Planting of bottom land hardwoods along the ridges further improved the land for wildlife habitat. A permanent easement paid the farmer a one-time fee of $500/acre, covered 100 percent of the restoration costs, and still enabled him to hold title to the land. The farmer now rents out duck blinds to hunters for $2,000-4,000 each season.
  • In the previous example, if the landowner chose a 30-year easement, the same deed arrangement would be made, but just for the 30 years rather than as a permanent easement. WRP would have paid 75 percent of the restoration costs and 75 percent of the agricultural value of the land to the landowner.
  • A dairy farmer in northern New England had continuous problems with a 30-acre hayfield within the floodplain of an adjacent river. Despite extensive ditching and other attempts to remove the water, some years the land was too wet to plow. The farmer opted for a permanent easement in the WRP to restore the 30 acres to wetland. He received a one-time payment of $500/acre, the costs of ditch plugging were reimbursed, and he now has the multiple benefits of a one-acre shallow pond which attracts migratory waterfowl and other wildlife to his property.
Legislative Authority

Food Security Act of 1985, as amended.

Application and Financial Information

To participate in the WRP, visit the local NRCS office, sign an "intent to participate," and select one of the three contract options. (See "Overview" above).

Landowners work with NRCS personnel to draw up a preliminary plan or Wetland Restoration Plan of Operations (WRPO), which describes the types of practices to be established, a timetable for establishing practices, and the estimated costs of restoration. The amount of taxes to be paid on the easement area is determined by the local taxing authority; NRCS has no authority regarding property or other tax issues. You should seek this information before entering the WRP.

Eligibility

To be eligible for the program, a landowner must have a clear title and own the land for at least 12 months before the end of the sign-up period (except in the case of inheritance). The land must be restorable to wetland conditions. Eligible lands include wetlands farmed under natural conditions, farmed wetlands, prior converted cropland, commenced converted wetlands, farmed wetland pasture, or land substantially altered by flooding. Your local NRCS office can help you decide if your land is eligible.

Uses and Restrictions

The landowner continues to control access to the land--and may lease the land-for hunting, fishing, and other undeveloped recreational activities. At any time, a landowner may request additional activities be evaluated to determine if they are compatible uses for the site. This request may include such items as permission to cut hay, graze livestock or harvest wood products. Compatible uses are allowed if they are fully consistent with the protection and enhancement of the wetland.