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A Good Year for the Wetlands Reserve Program in Western Kansas

A Good Year for the Wetlands Reserve Program in Western Kansas

by Steven P. Graber, Resource Soil Scientist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
Dodge City, Kansas

Of all the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) applications received in the state of Kansas during Fiscal Year 2009, nearly half of them came from “arid” western Kansas. That may seem strange to many of you, but there are several reasons that this may have occurred. Western Kansas is home to a unique ecosystem called Playa Lakes that stretches across the High Plains. These are the sometimes annoying small mud holes that cause tillage and crop problems, to the obvious large basins that most all would recognize as occasional or seasonal wetlands.

One factor that may have contributed to the increase in applications is that rainfall has once again started to bless the area, and landowners are remembering why they had trouble farming that certain low area. Another factor is that there have been several individuals that have done a very good job of selling the program to potential participants. Lastly, the Geographic Area Rate Cap, which sets the upper limit of what the government may pay for the easement has been raised to a level that is attractive to the landowner. Combine all of these factors, and there is the potential to have a number of applications come from an unlikely part of the state.

The WRP is a voluntary restoration program that provides technical assistance to restore and improve wetland resources on private lands. This program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). If you are interested and think that you may have an area that may qualify for the WRP, all that is necessary is to make application to the program. An application does not obligate the landowner to continue with the WRP. The NRCS will then determine if the area is eligible for the program. The applications are ranked for environmental benefit, and funding decisions are made. An offer is then made to the landowner to purchase a conservation easement on the land, at which time the landowner has the option to accept or reject the offer. A landowner may also withdraw from the WRP at any time prior to accepting the offer without penalty.

If the landowner accepts the offer, NRCS will proceed with the legal work to establish the easement. There are several options in WRP contracts. The landowner may select a 10-year agreement without an easement, an easement of 30 years, or a permanent easement. However, anything less than a permanent easement is funded at a reduced level and the landowner must pay part of the restoration costs. The landowner maintains title to the land, control of access, use for non-developed recreational activities, and subsurface mineral rights. The WRP contract requires that any uses of the land be compatible with the conservation objectives of the program.

For more information about NRCS programs, visit the Kansas NRCS Web site at

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