By Ronnie Weston| December 13, 2011 at 5:20 PM CST - Updated June 26 at 2:46 AM
LITTLE ROCK (AGFC) – Arkansas landowners have until Jan. 27, 2012, to sign up for 2012 funding consideration through the Wetlands Reserve Program. Funded through the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, WRP is a voluntary program that helps landowners address wetland and wildlife natural resource concerns on private lands.
WRP participants limit their future use of the land, but retain private ownership, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Mike Sullivan says. "Arkansas is second in the nation in WRP wetland restoration with more than 200,000 acres restored," Sullivan said. "We are particularly interested in restoring bottomland hardwoods and hydrology in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, the majority of which lies in our state, and in the Red River and Arkansas River valleys."
Wetlands are areas saturated by water all or most of a year. Often called "nature's kidneys," wetlands naturally filter contaminants out of water. Wetlands also recharge groundwater, prevent flooding and soil erosion, and slow the flow of water that runs across the surface of the land.
WRP offers permanent easements that pay 100 percent of the value of an easement and up to 100 percent of easement restoration costs, and 30-year easements that pay up to 75 percent of the value of an easement and up to 75 percent of easement restoration costs. WRP also offers restoration cost-share agreements to restore wetland functions and values without placing an easement on enrolled acres; NRCS pays up to 75 percent of restoration costs.
WRP is a great option for flood prone cropland and can enroll cropland with existing forested land in the contract, according to David Long, the private lands coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "Seems the Arkansas Delta is regularly receiving flooding like we have seen the last couple of weeks. Whether it's fall, winter, spring or summer, many cropland acres are being flooded more often than historically, almost on a yearly basis in some areas of the state," Long explained.
Many farmers have been losing crops yearly from the flood events. As a result, there are good areas for farm producers and landowners to consider enrolling in WRP, Long notes. "What financially is in it for the landowner? Currently, for a permanent easement, NRCS is paying $1,350 per acre for cropland, certain pasturelands and commercial fish ponds and $800 per acre for existing woodlands and other lands in most of the state," he said.
Lands in the Arkansas River Valley (including Franklin, Perry, Yell, Conway, Johnson, Logan, Sebastian, Pope, Faulkner and Crawford Counties), pay $1,500 per acre for croplands, pastureland and commercial fish ponds. The woodland acre payment is the same as the rest of the state. Woodland acres alone cannot be enrolled in WRP, they have to be part of land that needs wetland restoration and an additional 50% of forested acres can be enrolled. The woodlands serve as a buffer to adjacent lands restored to wetlands under the program, Long says.
The best feature of the WRP program is that the NRCS ensures the wetland restoration is completed and pays 100% of the restoration. "Landowners do not have to get bogged down trying to set up a tree planter, locating tree seedlings or installing levees and water control structures. NRCS coordinates all of the restoration, which is a big plus for landowners," Long said.
Wetland restoration under WRP creates premium habitat for waterfowl, wading birds, along with deer, turkey, rabbits and a host of other wildlife, Long explained. "Even bobwhite quail can benefit from this restoration work. Plus, for the landowner interested in wildlife and hunting, the program improves the property for excellent wildlife watching and hunting of all types, Long says. "The landowner may lease these lands out for hunting, if they have an interest to receive additional income. Future timber may be selectively harvested under a forest management plan approved by NRCS. WRP is a win-win for everyone but most importantly, for the many wildlife species that are in decline as a result of the limited wetland habitat across the Delta," he added.
For additional information about WRP, visit www.ar.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp.html. To sign up for the programs, visit your local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service field service center.