Lincoln, Neb., April 24, 2012 - Nebraska landowners with farm ground located in the Rainwater Basin wetland complex in south central Nebraska may be eligible for wetland restoration assistance from the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP), said Craig Derickson, state conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Lincoln, Neb. The program aims to restore and protect wetlands in an active agricultural landscape by allowing center pivots to cross WREP wetland easements, ensuring wetlands are compatible with the agriculture production in this region. The deadline to apply for this assistance is May 25.
The Rainwater Basin wetland complex was one of three Nebraska projects approved to receive WREP funding to restore, enhance and protect high-priority wetlands and improve wildlife habitat. WREP is a voluntary conservation program that is carried out through partnership agreements with state and local governments and non-governmental organizations. NRCS administers the program. NRCS will be working with the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV) and the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD) to carry out wetland restoration projects.
Derickson said, “NRCS is pleased to partner with the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture and the NARD to help landowners and managers keep working lands working, while also restoring and enhancing critical Rainwater Basin wetlands.”
This WREP was developed in response to the particular agriculture and habitat conditions in the Rainwater Basin landscape. Of the 1,861 wetlands that still functioned in this region in 2010, over two-thirds were intersected by center pivots. “Allowing these lands, when eligible, to be enrolled into a conservation program provides an opportunity that benefits both agriculture and habitat,” says RWBJV coordinator Andy Bishop. He notes that the WREP funding will encourage more landowners to apply for restoration projects.
Through the WREP during fiscal year 2012, over $500,000 is available to purchase 150 acres of conservation easements within the Rainwater Basin. The WREP could provide $2.5 million total funding over three years.
In addition to the WREP funds, $10,000 from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, and $50,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be contributed to the wetland restoration projects.
The Rainwater Basin wetland complex encompasses 21 counties in south central Nebraska (see map). This area is the narrowest portion of the migration route known as the Central Flyway. The Rainwater Basin wetlands provide a crucial stopover where millions of ducks and geese gather each spring to rest and feed on their way to their northern breeding grounds. In addition to millions of ducks and geese, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 shorebirds stop in the Rainwater Basin wetlands each spring.
Throughout much of the twentieth century, wetlands were drained for farming, bisected by roads, or silted in by erosion. Currently, only about 10% of the original Rainwater Basin wetlands remain. The WREP funding will help landowners restore some of these vital wetlands.
Landowners can choose to enroll eligible land into a permanent or a 30-year easement. Landowners retain ownership and access to the land and may be able to generate income from NRCS-approved grazing, haying, or recreation opportunities.
Interested farmers and ranchers with land located in the approved project area may apply for assistance at their local NRCS offices or by contacting the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture at (308) 382-8112. Additional information about WREP is also available at http://www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov/wrep_index.html.