Wetlands Reserve Program

Canadian geese rest comfortably in wetlands on Maryland's Eastern Shore.  Photo by Tim McCabe, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Canadian geese rest comfortably in wetlands on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Photo by Tim McCabe, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Landowners in the Coastal Bays watershed may be interested in a program that provides technical and financial help toward protecting, restoring and enhancing forested wetlands, coastal marshes, and former wetlands on agricultural lands.

The goal of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat and long-term conservation practices on every enrolled acre. This voluntary program is open to private property owners and is offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS has worked together with farmers and landowners for more than 70 years to conserve and restore natural resources on private lands.

Land considered for the program must be considered restorable and suitable for wildlife habitat. Land types that are eligible include forest, woodland and other lands where hydrology has been significantly degraded, farmed wetlands, prior converted cropland, farmed wetland pasture, riparian areas and land that has been significantly changed by recent flooding. In 2008, nearly 6,000 acres were enrolled in the state’s program.

There are three options for enrollment. The first is a permanent conservation easement in perpetuity. Easement payments are usually based on a cap, but the landowner cannot receive more than the land’s fair market value. All costs with this easement type are paid for by the USDA, which also pays 100 percent of the costs of restoring the land and required maintenance.

The second option is a 30-year easement, in which payments are 75-percent of what would be paid for a permanent easement. USDA also pays for up to 75-percent of restoration costs. The third type is a cost sharing agreement. This is a 10-year agreement to re-establish wetland habitat and functions. USDA pays up to 75-percent of the cost. This option does not place an easement on the property and the landowner is responsible for maintenance.

As an added bonus for permanent and 30-year easement holders, USDA pays all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office. These costs could include charges for abstracts, recording fees, appraisal and survey fees and title insurance.

Although the land is protected from development and agricultural and timber production the landowner retains access control and can still utilize it for compatible uses, including hunting and fishing. These easements result in increasing fish and wildlife habitat, improving water quality, reducing flooding and protecting groundwater and biological diversity.

Participants voluntarily limit future use of the land, but retain private ownership. Landowners benefit by receiving financial and technical assistance in return for restoring and protecting wetlands, reducing problems associated with farming potentially wet and difficult areas, and developing wildlife and recreational opportunities on their land. Wetlands benefit us all by providing fish and wildlife habitat; improving water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals out; reducing flooding; recharging groundwater; protecting biological diversity; as well as providing opportunities for educational, scientific, and recreational activities.

Even after the completion of restoration the NRCS and its partners will continue to help, often through reviewing restoration measures, clarifying technical and administrative aspects of the easement and project management needs, and providing basic biological and engineering advice on how to achieve optimum results for wetland dependent species.

The Wetland Reserve Program was established by Congress in the 1990 Farm Bill and reauthorized in 1996 and again in 2002. The 2002 bill raised the national aggregate cap to 2,275,000 acres nationwide, up significantly from the previous 1,075,000 maximum. The 2002 Farm Bill also authorized continuing the program by enabling the Secretary of Agriculture to enroll up to 250,000 additional acres each year.
Maryland landowners can learn more about how to submit an application to the WRP by contacting NRCS Maryland through USDA Service Centers or by visiting the NRCS Maryland homepage at www.md.nrcs.usda.gov.

WRP and similar programs will be presented at the March 6, 2010 Landowner Conference to be held in Snow Hill. For more information on this conference or to register contact Katherine Munson at kmunson@co.worcester.md.us or go to the county’s webpage at www.co.worcester.md.us.

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