The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Public Lands Showcase – a Great Partnersh
The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Public Lands – a Great Partnership
By: Scott Turgeon – Area IV Biologist
WRP, more formally known as the Wetlands Reserve Program, is a voluntary cost share program aimed at restoring wetlands that have been altered for agricultural purposes. The primary objective of WRP is to restore natural hydrology, to the extent practical, of degraded wetlands for the benefit of wildlife including waterfowl, wading birds and endangered and threatened species. On non-federal public land, where the property is already in conservation or planned to be, NRCS typically utilizes CSO restoration agreements to assist state and local governments restore wetland habitats.
There are several reasons why WRP on non-federal public lands produces a great partnership for all involved. From NRCS’s perspective, it stretches WRP dollars farther than when used on private lands because no easement is purchased and 25% of the restoration cost is incurred by the partner agency. Also, working with conservation partners on CSO restoration agreements reduces the amount of administrative overheard required by NRCS because the partner agency usually takes on the responsibility of designing and constructing the restored wetland. In addition, projects undertaken by state and local government partners typically progress faster because the primary purpose of the property is restoration and conservation.
From the partner agency’s perspective, WRP is a great opportunity because they get financial assistance for their restoration projects. For some state and local governments, especially those with limited budgets, this means being able to do restoration projects they may not have been able to accomplish with their current funding or the opportunity to expand the scope of work on planned restoration projects beyond what their initial budgets would have allowed.
From the general public’s perspective, WRP on public land is a great prospect because the public gets the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of wetland restoration, paid for by local, state and federal tax dollars, through recreational activities such as hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing.
Utilization of WRP on public lands in Florida has been highly effective. So effective in fact that Florida has the largest non-easement (Mallory Swamp, Lafayette Co. - 29,463 acres) and easement (Allapattah Ranch, Martin Co. - 15,370 acres) WRP projects in the United States, both on public lands. One reason WRP has been used so extensively on public lands in Florida is because of the extremely high land values found throughout the state. Understandably, private landowners are hesitant to offer conservation easements on their properties when land values have skyrocketed to tens of thousands of dollars per acre. NRCS in Florida has found a way to deal with this by utilizing WRP dollars on non-federal public lands with willing local and state agency partners in a great partnership effort to put conservation on the ground.