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Wetland Reserve Easements

NRCS provides assistance directly to private landowners and Indian tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands through the Wetland Reserve Easement (WRE) program. The landowner voluntarily limits future use of the land, yet retains private ownership. NRCS and the landowner work together to develop a plan for the restoration and maintenance of the wetland.

Benefits of WRE include restoring, protecting and enhancing wetland ecosystems, preventing soil erosion, reducing flooding, developing wildlife habitat including threatened and endangered species habitat, improving water quality, recharging groundwater and protecting biological diversity.

The program offers landowners two enrollment options:

  • Permanent Easements: A conservation easement in perpetuity; NRCS pays up to 100% of the easement value and restoration costs.
  • 30-Year Easements: Easement expires after 30 years; NRCS pays up to 75% of the easement value and restoration costs.

For acreage owned by an Indian tribe, there is a 30-year contract enrollment option. Program payment rates are commensurate with 30-year easements.

Eligibility

All persons listed on the ownership deed must be in compliance with highly erodible land, wetland conservation provisions, and meet adjusted gross income limitations of the Food Security Act of 1985. WRE additionally requires ownership of the land for the last two years.

Lands that may be eligible for WRE include:

  • farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored;
  • croplands or grasslands subject to flooding;
  • riparian areas that link protected wetland areas;
  • Conservation Reserve Program lands with wetlands;
  • wetlands restored through another program;
  • associated adjacent lands that present ecological benefits to the easement.

Application Ranking

NRCS will prioritize WRE applications based on the easement’s potential for protecting and enhancing habitat for migratory birds and other wetland dependent wildlife. The project evaluation uses required national ranking criteria and state criteria developed with advice from the State Technical Committee. Funding for the programs is through the Farm Bill and is reauthorized every five years. Due to limited funding, the program has become very competitive with only high quality projects accepted.

Applicant Resources

How to Apply

Landowners may apply at any time with their local USDA Service Center. Each year the NRCS establishes a concentrated sign-up period, with application deadline, for funding consideration that fiscal year. Applications submitted after the deadline will be considered in the next fiscal year and landowners will not need to reapply. An application may be filled out over the phone or online. An in-person discussion is not needed. If the land qualifies, additional documentation such as an ownership deed will be required.

Online services are available to customers with an eAuth account, which provides access to the farmers.gov portal where producers can view USDA farm loan information and payments and view and track certain USDA program applications and payments. An eAuthentication account is a way for you to interact with USDA websites online. It gives you the ability to identify yourself to the USDA via your User ID and password. It permits you to access a wide range of USDA applications across the many USDA agencies and their services. Customers who do not already have an eAuth account can enroll at farmers.gov/sign-in.

Online NRCS services are available to customers through the Conservation Client Gateway. Customers can track payments, report completed practices, request conservation assistance, and electronically sign documents.

More Information

For more information, read our brochure featuring the long-term benefits of healthy wetlands, including descriptions of each program, pictures from restorations across the state, featured landowners, partnership highlights, and more here.

Ramsden Marsh