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A pond rimmed by cattails and low-growing vegetation forms a wetland in a mountain valley.

Wetland Reserve Easements - Montana

WRE
Apply by: December 30, 2022

Wetlands Reserve Easements (WRE) help private and tribal landowners protect, restore and enhance wetlands which have been previously degraded due to agricultural uses.

The Wetland Reserve Easements component of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program provides habitat for fish and wildlife, including threatened and endangered species, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce flooding, recharge groundwater, protect biological diversity, provide resilience to climate change and provide opportunities for educational, scientific and limited recreational activities.

Who is eligible?

Eligible landowners include

  • Owners of privately held land including land that is held by American Indian tribes.
  • All landowners who meet the adjusted gross income (AGI) limitations, including all members of landowner-legal entities, and those compliant with the Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985.

What land is eligible?

Land eligible for wetland reserve easements includes privately held farmed or converted wetland that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored. NRCS will prioritize applications based the easement’s potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.

How does it work?

To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, NRCS enters into purchase agreements with eligible private landowners or Indian tribes that include the right for NRCS to develop and implement a Wetland Reserve Plan of Operations (WRPO). This plan will detail practices to help restore, protect and enhance the wetlands functions and values.

Wetland Reserve enrollment options include:

  • Permanent Easements – Permanent easements are conservation easements in perpetuity. NRCS pays 100 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 75 to 100 percent of the restoration costs.
  • 30-year Easements – 30-year easements expire after 30 years. Under 30-year easements, NRCS pays 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.  
  • Term Easements - Term easements are easements that are for the maximum duration allowed under applicable State laws. NRCS pays 50 to 75 percent of the easement value for the purchase of the term easement. Additionally, NRCS pays between 50 to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
  • 30-year Contracts – 30-year contracts are only available to enroll acreage owned by Indian tribes and program payment rates are commensurate with 30-year easements.

For all Wetland Reserve Easements options, NRCS pays all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office, including recording fees, charges for abstracts, survey and appraisal fees and title insurance.

How to apply

To enroll land through wetland reserve easements, landowners may apply at any time at the local USDA Service Center. However, NRCS establishes application ranking dates for evaluation, ranking and approval of eligible applications. Applications received after the ranking date will be automatically deferred to the next funding period. See Montana Programs and Application Dates.

State Ranking Questions

NRCS uses these questions to evaluate eligible applications for this project and to prioritize applications for potential funding. Montana has two ACEP-WRE funding pools, each with its own set of questions.

ACEP-WRE General Ranking Questions for Montana

  • Eligible Land Hydrologic Modification Condition to include previously restored site
    • Offered area has significant hydrologic modification on-site and will have the hydrology restored to the extent determined technically feasible resulting in a significant increase in the functions and values of the wetland. Examples include but are not limited to: fill, drainage ditches, pits, tiles, pumping or flooding of such magnitude that permanent wetland hydrologic conditions are created.
    • Wetland has moderate hydrologic modification on site, and will have hydrology restored to the extent determined technically
    • feasible resulting in a moderate increase in the functions and values of the wetland. Examples include but are not limited to alterations due to farming or substantial grazing.
    • Wetland has minor hydrologic modification. Examples include but are not limited to removal of woody species to make production possible.
    • Wetland has no hydrologic modifications.
  • Percentage of wetland hydrology suitable for native species which occur(ed) prior to manipulation or as identified in preliminary WRPO.
    • 75% or greater
    • 50%-74%
    • 25-49%
    • Less than 25%
  • Wildlife Habitat for T&E and Species of Concern
    • Easement acquisition and restoration efforts are specifically focused on the recovery of one or more federally listed threated or endangered species
    • Site will generally contribute to the protection or recovery of a federally listed T&E species, a proposed threatened/proposed endangered or a candidate species as listed in the FOTG Section II.
    • Site will generally contribute to the protection or recovery of a STATE species of concern (species having a state rank of S1, S2 or S3 on the Montana National Heritage Program animal or plant SOC list)
    • Site will not contribute to the protection or recovery of a FEDERAL or STATE species of concern (species having a state rank of S1, S2 or S3 on the Montana National Heritage Program animal or plant SOC list)
  • Species Suitability - Post restoration site will provide quality habitat for
    • waterfowl, shorebirds (including wading birds), neotropical migrants and native amphibians.
    • two of the groups listed above.
    • one of the groups listed above.
    • any groups listed above.
  • Landscape Context - Easement area is located directly adjacent to rangeland or forestland
    • with 640 or more acres
    • with 320 and 639 acres
    • between 160 and 319 acres
    • less than 160 acres.
  • Proximity of application to other permanently protected areas - Easement is located adjacent to:
    • permanently protected lands (other conservation easements, NWR, WMA, Federal Lands, etc.).
    • within 1/2 a mile of permanently protected lands (other conservation easements, NWR, WMA, Federal Lands, etc.).
    • within 1 mile of permanently protected lands (other conservation easements, NWR, WMA, Federal Lands, etc.).
    • greater than 1 mile permanently protected lands.
  • Wetland area to be restored/enhanced will be:
    • 75 acres or greater
    • 50 to 74 acres
    • 25 to 49 acres
    • Less than 25 acres
  • WRE is located in source water protection area (see statewide GIS layer)
    • YES
    • NO
  • Percent of Easement that will be wetland (use weighted average if more than one wetland type exists on project site)
    • Depressional Wetlands - i) Less than 60%
    • Depressional Wetlands - ii) 60-79%
    • Depressional Wetlands - iii) 80 - 90%
    • Depressional Wetlands - iv) 90% or greater
    • All other Wetland types - i) 75% or greater
    • All other Wetland types - ii) 50% or greater
    • All other Wetland types - iii) Less than 50%
  • WRE includes the protection or restoration of native vegetation communities
    • Greater than 50% of offered acres has or will have native vegetation communities.
    • 10 to 50% of offered acres has or will have native vegetation communities.
    • Less than 10 % of offered acres has or will have native vegetation communities.
  • Estimated Easement Size - Easement acres offered is 
    • 1,000 acres or greater
    • 1,000 acres or greater
    • greater than 150 to 399 acres
    • greater than 50 to 149 acres
    • less than 50 acres

ACEP-WRE Reserved Grazing Rights (RGR) Ranking Questions for Montana

  • Eligible Land Hydrologic Modification Condition to Include previously restored sites
    • Site has significant hydrologic modification on-site and will have the hydrology restored to the extent determined technically feasible resulting in a significant increase in the functions and values of the wetland. Examples include but are not limited to: fill, drainage ditches, pits, tiles, pumping or flooding of such magnitude that permanent wetland hydrologic conditions are created.
    • Site has moderate hydrologic modification on site, and will have hydrology restored to the extent determined technically feasible resulting in a moderate increase in the functions and values of the wetland. Examples include but are not limited to: alterations due to farming or substantial grazing.
    • Site has minor hydrologic modification. Examples include but are not limited to: removal of woody species to make production possible.
  • Percentage of wetland hydrology suitable for native species which occur(ed) prior to manipulation or as identified in preliminary WRPO.
    • 75% or greater
    • 50%-74%
    • 25-49%
    • Less than 25%
  • Wildlife Habitat for T&E and Species of Concern
    • Easement acquisition and restoration efforts are specifically focused on the recovery of one or more federally listed threated or endangered species.
    • Site will generally contribute to the protection or recovery of a federally listed T&E species, a proposed threatened/proposed endangered or a candidate species as listed in the FOTG Section II.
    • Site will generally contribute to the protection or recovery of a STATE species of concern (species having a state rank of S1, S2 or S3 on the Montana National Heritage Program animal or plant SOC list 
    • Site will not contribute to the protection or recovery of a FEDERAL or STATE species of concern (species having a state rank of S1, S2 or S3 on the Montana National Heritage Program animal or plant SOC list)
  • Species Suitability - Post restoration site will provide quality habitat for:
    • waterfowl, shorebirds (including wading birds), neotropical migrants and native amphibians
    • two of the groups listed above
    • one of the groups listed above
    • any groups listed above
  • Wetland area to be restoration/enhanced will be:
    • 75 acres or greater
    • 50 to 74 acres25 to 49 acres
    • Less than 25 acres
  • WRE is located in source water protection area
    • Yes
    • No
  • Percent of Easement that will be wetland
    • Depressional Wetlands - Less than 60%
    • Depressional Wetlands - 60 - 79%
    • Depressional Wetlands - 80 - 90%
    • Depressional Wetlands - 90% or greater
    • All other Wetland types - 75% or greater
    • All other Wetland types - 51% or greater
    • All other Wetland types - Less than 50%
  • Landscape Context - Easement area is located directly adjacent to:
    • rangeland or forestland with 640 or more acres
    • rangeland or forestland with 320 and 639 acres
    • rangeland or forestland between 160 and 319 acres
    • rangeland or forestland less than 160 acres.
  • Proximity of application to other permanently protected areas - Easement is located:
    • adjacent to permanently protected lands (other conservation easements, NWR, WMA, Federal Lands, etc.).
    • within 1/2 a mile of permanently protected lands (other conservation easements, NWR, WMA, Federal Lands, etc.).
    • within 1 mile of permanently protected lands (other conservation easements, NWR, WMA, Federal Lands, etc.).
    • greater than 1 mile permanently protected lands
  • WRE includes the protection or restoration of native vegetation communities
    • Greater than 50% of offered acres has or will have native vegetation communities.
    • 10 to 49% of offered acres has or will have native vegetation communities.
    • Less than 10 % of offered acres has or will have native vegetation communities.
  • Estimated Easement Size - Easement acres offered is:
    • 1,000 acres or greater
    • 400 - 999 acres
    • greater than 150 - 399 acres
    • greater than 50 - 149 acres
    • less than 50 acres

Additional Information

Ready to get started?

Contact your local service center to start your application.

Find Your Local Service Center

USDA Service Centers are locations where you can connect with Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or Rural Development employees for your business needs. Enter your state and county below to find your local service center and agency offices. If this locator does not work in your browser, please visit offices.usda.gov.

How to Get Assistance

Do you farm or ranch and want to make improvements to the land that you own or lease?

Natural Resources Conservation Service offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners.

how to get started

To get started with NRCS, we recommend you stop by your local NRCS field office. We’ll discuss your vision for your land.

NRCS provides landowners with free technical assistance, or advice, for their land. Common technical assistance includes: resource assessment, practice design and resource monitoring. Your conservation planner will help you determine if financial assistance is right for you.

We’ll walk you through the application process. To get started on applying for financial assistance, we’ll work with you:

  • To fill out an AD 1026, which ensures a conservation plan is in place before lands with highly erodible soils are farmed. It also ensures that identified wetland areas are protected.
  • To meet other eligibility certifications.

Once complete, we’ll work with you on the application, or CPA 1200.

Applications for most programs are accepted on a continuous basis, but they’re considered for funding in different ranking periods. Be sure to ask your local NRCS district conservationist about the deadline for the ranking period to ensure you turn in your application in time.

As part of the application process, we’ll check to see if you are eligible. To do this, you’ll need to bring:

  • An official tax ID (Social Security number or an employer ID)
  • A property deed or lease agreement to show you have control of the property; and
  • A farm tract number.

If you don’t have a farm tract number, you can get one from USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Typically, the local FSA office is located in the same building as the local NRCS office. You only need a farm tract number if you’re interested in financial assistance.

NRCS will take a look at the applications and rank them according to local resource concerns, the amount of conservation benefits the work will provide and the needs of applicants.

If you’re selected, you can choose whether to sign the contract for the work to be done.

Once you sign the contract, you’ll be provided standards and specifications for completing the practice or practices, and then you will have a specified amount of time to implement. Once the work is implemented and inspected, you’ll be paid the rate of compensation for the work if it meets NRCS standards and specifications.