The Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) is a conservation easement and habitat restoration program focused primarily on wetlands in agricultural production.
The purposes of the program are to restore the hydrology and vegetation of prior converted wetlands (wetlands brought into agricultural production prior to December 23, 1985) or wetlands farmed under natural conditions; to protect the functions and values of wetlands for wildlife habitat; and to improve water quality, floodwater retention, and groundwater recharge capacity of wetlands. The program offers cash payment to landowners for placing permanent conservation easements on their wetland property, as well as cost-share assistance for restoration work.
How the program works
Farmers wanting to participate in the WRP submit applications to their local ASCS office during announced sign-up periods. The Soil Conservation Service, with assistance from the Fish and Wildlife Service, then determines the eligibility of each proposed property based on state and national criteria. If an application is approved, the SCS and FWS will work with the landowner to develop a plan for restoring the wetland. This plan describes the measures to be taken for wetland restoration and maintenance, intended uses of the land, and mechanisms for other arrangements such as providing access for management and easement monitoring or maintenance of public drainage systems.
There are several criteria for eligibility under this program, pertaining both to uses of the land and to ownership. Eligible lands must be either (1) riparian wetlands (wetlands formed along the banks of an inland freshwater body such as a stream or lake) with no cropping history or (2) farmed wetlands or wetlands converted to agricultural use before December 23, 1985 (prior converted croplands) which were planted or enrolled in a set-aside or other conservation program for at least one year between 1986 and 1990.
Some lands that do not meet these criteria but which protect the functions and values of eligible lands may also be considered for the WRP. These include riparian corridors that link wetlands, and uplands adjacent to restored wetlands. Under certain circumstances wetland property may also be transferred from the Conservation Reserve Program (see pp. 27-29) to the Wetland Reserve Program.
In addition, the person applying to the program must have owned the land for at least the 12 months preceding the date on which the intention to apply is submitted, unless the land was acquired by will or succession or the ASCS determines that the land was not acquired for the purpose of placing it in the WRP.
Easement payments will not exceed the average fair market value of the same type of agricultural land within the county. Participants are paid in one lump sum upon completion of restoration work. Technical assistance and 75 percent cost-share are also available for carrying out the restoration activities outlined in the management plan. Potential compatible uses of the land may include hunting and fishing, if they do not diminish or degrade the wetland values of the land.
Landowners participating in the WRP are responsible for obtaining any permits or water rights that might be needed to implement the restoration plans. The Soil Conservation Service has a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which administers Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, that covers all relevant WRP habitat improvement projects; thus participation in this program does not require the landowner to obtain a Corps permit.
As of spring 1994, the Wetland Reserve Program was available in 20 states, including California; it has been proposed nationwide. The legislation authorizing the program, the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990, requires reauthorization in 1995, which may result in changes to the funding or structure of the program. This program has been growing steadily in size. For more information, contact your local SCS or ASCS office, listed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the telephone directory; or call the ASCS Conservation Program Specialist at (916) 551-1801.