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Wetland Reserve Program Helps Family Restore Small Wetland Area

Each year, landowners throughout the country sign up for the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Wetland Reserve Program (WRP), a voluntary conservation program that offers landowners the means to restore, enhance and protect wetlands on their property through permanent easements.

A recent wetland restoration project near Trego, Mont. proved that a small investment can yield big results. For less than $6,000, NRCS restored a 36-acre wetland. “We focused on wetland areas and not upland acreage,” said Kirk Sullivan, NRCS district conservationist in Eureka, Mont. “It took a month to complete, and we are seeing significant results.”

After restoration, Dudley Slough pond increased in size by 50 percent.

In 2005, Jerry and Joyce Schaub began looking into the WRP.  When they purchased the property in 1992, there was already a Nature Conservancy (TNC) easement on the property.  TNC’s interest is what helped jumpstart NRCS’s involvement with the Schaub restoration project. 

“The Nature Conservancy recognized the value in doing restoration,” Sullivan said.  “The easement is surrounded by federal land, it’s in stable ownership. and neighboring projects are not likely to degrade our project.”

The NRCS area biologist at the time reviewed the property and determined it would be a worthwhile project for the agency to support.

After working with NRCS and TNC to get the ball rolling, the family experienced a setback when Jerry passed away in 2006.  However, that didn’t stop Joyce.

Area of inundation after restoration.  Prior to restoration, this was a drainage ditch.

“He [Jerry] passed before the easement was perfected, but she continued on,” Sullivan said.                  

The easement was recorded in 2007.  Restoration began in fall 2008. 

There’s a perpetual easement on 41 acres of the property.  To restore the wetland area, NRCS paid to install a 100 ft.-long drainage ditch plug and implement initial control of Canada thistle.

Wildlife is reaping the benefits.  “To my surprise, everything came back quickly,” Joyce said.  “I see much more water and much more waterfowl. I see various types of ducks, geese, and sandhill cranes in the spring.”

Sullivan says that was the plan.  “There’s a larger wetland area and longer period of hydration on the easement with an overall increase in wetland habitat for this project.”

For Joyce, this project went well because of the partnership between TNC and NRCS.  “This was so much simpler than I ever imagined,” she said.  “I didn’t know much about what to do, so turned everything over to Kirk.  He got all of the paperwork together; I signed it; and everything turned out better than I could have imagined.”