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West Virginia WRE Ranking

Ranking Criteria Overview
The ranking criteria for easements and 30-year contracts will emphasize—

  1. The environmental benefits of enrolling the land.
  2. Cost effectiveness of enrolling the land to maximize the environmental benefits per dollar expended.
  3. Whether the landowner or other person or entity is offering to contribute financially to the enrollment or restoration to leverage Federal funds.
  4. The extent to which the purpose of the program would be achieved on the land.
  5. Other criteria identified by the Easement Programs Division (EPD).

Environmental Benefit Considerations
The ranking criteria will consider the wetland functions and values as defined in subpart T of this manual, and—

  1. The environmental benefits of enrolling the land, including but not limited to—
    • Habitat that will be restored for the benefit of migratory birds and wetland-dependent wildlife, including the diversity of wildlife species that will be benefitted or the life-cycle needs that will be addressed.
    • Habitat for threatened, endangered, or other at-risk species, including the planned extents and anticipated use of the restored habitats on the easement area, and diversity of at-risk species benefitted.
    • Protection or restoration of native vegetative communities.
    • Habitat diversity and complexity to be restored and protected on the enrollment area.
    • Extent of wetland losses within a geographic area, including wetlands generally or specific wetland types.
    • Proximity and connectivity to other protected habitats.
    • Extent of adjacent beneficial land uses.
    • Water quality protection or improvement.
    • Attenuation of floodwater flows.
    • Water quantity benefits through increased water storage in the soil profile or through groundwater recharge and consideration of proximity to impaired water bodies.
    • Carbon sequestration.
    • Improving climate change resiliency.
  2.  The extent to which the original hydrology can be restored.
    • Hydrology restoration potential must comprise at least 50 percent of the potential points awarded for environmental benefit considerations.
    • To receive hydrology restoration ranking points, hydrology restoration or enhancement practices must provide hydrologic conditions suitable for the needs of the native wetland-dependent wildlife species that occurred in the area and appropriate to support the wetland functions and values being restored or enhanced on the site, including those that existed prior to manipulation of the hydrology or as otherwise identified in the preliminary wetlands reserve plan of operations (WRPO).
    • Hydrology restoration potential should be assessed based on physical site characteristics including—
      • Soil properties, such as soil texture, soil structure, and soil drainage classes.
      • Landscape features, such as geomorphic position, slope, and water table depths.
      • Flooding characteristics, including frequency, timing, duration, depth, and sources.
      • The source of the hydrology, the degree and type of hydrologic manipulation, existing connectivity and barriers to connectivity with hydrology sources, and the extent to which the hydrology can be restored.
      • To the extent surface water rights are required for the restoration of hydrology and will be provided by and secured by the landowner as a matter of land eligibility, the reliability and availability of the water delivered through such water rights, and the degree of reliance on such water rights to successfully restore hydrology, should be taken into account as a ranking consideration.
  3.  Duration of the enrollment, with priority given to permanent easements over nonpermanent enrollment options.
    • For nonpermanent enrollments, the ranking criteria may consider likelihood that the site will retain its habitat functions and values after the enrollment period ends, such as concurrent enrollment in a permanent easement held by a State agency or nongovernmental conservation organization that takes effect after the expiration of the 30-year ACEP-WRE.

Economic Considerations

  1. The ranking criteria include but are not limited to the following economic considerations:
    • Estimated easement or 30-year contract cost per acre, if appropriate. As applicable, any voluntary landowner offer to accept a reduced per-acre easement value.
    • Note: Landowner selection of an enrollment option that pays less than 100 percent of the permanent easement value (e.g., a 30-year easement or a grazing reserved rights enrollment) does not constitute a landowner offer to accept a reduced easement value; the landowner offer must be lower than the easement value that the landowner would be entitled to based on the enrollment type.
    • Estimated restoration costs.
    • Partnership contributions from a landowner or other person or entity that reduce NRCS costs should be reflected positively in the ranking process. States must ensure NRCS payments are appropriately reduced based on the amount of the partnership contribution.
    • A cost-benefit comparison. Applications that have a lower cost per environmental benefit ratio will receive higher rankings.
    • Potential near- and long-term management, repair, replacement, operation and maintenance costs, and monitoring.
  2. During the ranking process, cost factors may be estimated using comparable market value, geographic area rate caps, landowner offers, established restoration costs, and pledged contributions from a landowner or other person or entity.

Special Considerations

  1. States may also include special considerations in the ranking process, such as—
    • Priority Geographic Regions.—The State conservationist, with advice from the STC, may give priority to certain geographic regions of the State where restoration of wetlands may better achieve State and regional objectives. Additionally, an easement offer in a priority geographic region may be accepted before other individual easement offers that rank higher but are outside the priority region. This policy provides an opportunity for the State conservationist, with advice from the STC, to begin an ACEP-WRE initiative in an area that has been determined important for ACEP-WRE involvement.
    • Priority Wetland Habitat Types.—The State conservationist, with advice from the STC, may prioritize certain wetland habitat types to receive additional ranking consideration. Unique, rare, or declining wetland habitat types identified for protection and restoration may be identified and prioritized in the State’s ranking criteria.
    • Applications in special water-quality target areas.
    • Creating contiguous wetland areas under easement protection, such as along river corridors or within drainage districts.
    • Enhancing effective restoration of previously enrolled land.
    • Reducing habitat fragmentation and boundary management problems.
    • Example: In-holdings in the proposed easement area would potentially exhibit marginal wetland functions, but, if enrolled, would enable substantial restoration and enhancement of the remainder of the proposed easement area.
    • Promoting adjacent landowner participation.
    • Enhancing long-term protection of previously restored wetlands. When a wetland has previously been restored, but not fully protected by an easement, as described in subpart K, section 528.105G of this part, the restoration will be considered a positive attribute in the ranking process.
    • Excessive permitting requirements or permitting requirements that require excessive time to secure. Higher priority should be given to areas where successful restoration work will not be complicated by unusual permit problems or where such permit requirements have already been addressed (e.g., area and actions covered under existing regional permits, biological opinions, or specific categorical exclusions).
    • Example: If there are State or local permitting processes that are complex and lengthy, the site may not warrant further consideration. At a minimum, the impacts of the permitting process and requirements in terms of whether the site is in fact capable of being restored and maintained in accordance with program purposes or if it the land can be restored within the required timeframes, should be fully incorporated into the site consideration.
    • The level of complexity for engineering design, practice application, and operation and maintenance.
    • The State conservationist, with advice from the STC, may elect to establish a minimum easement size to ensure program objectives are achieved, ensure easement management effectiveness, or improve program efficiency, as long as the minimum does not unintentionally exclude high-quality applications, such as critical habitat for endangered and threatened species, or prevent participation by limited-resource farmers and ranchers.
    • Note: For applications considered under the closed basin lake or pothole land eligibility criteria described in subpart K, section 528.105D of this part, the minimum parcel size of 20 contiguous acres is an eligibility criteria. For ranking purposes, the State conservationist may set a larger minimum easement size for such applications but may not establish a smaller minimum easement size.
  2. States are encouraged to include the technical considerations and parameters related to any special ranking considerations in their State-specific wetland restoration criteria and guidelines (WRCG).

Matt Oliver, State Easement Specialist     or      NRCS.WVEasements@usda.gov