Last Updated November 4, 2009
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
Restoring and protecting wetlands on private property, and providing financial incentives to enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring agricultural land
The WRP helps eligible landowners take restore, protect and enhance eligible wetlands. Only private land and land owned by Indian tribes is eligible for participation in WRP.
The program is administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) with advice from the State Technical Committees. The NRCS provides technical information about restoring wetlands and financial assistance for conservation measures.
There are four enrollment options: a permanent easement, a 30-year easement, or a restoration cost share agreement. In addition, land owned by Indian Tribes may be enrolled in a 30-year contract. Under all enrollment options, the landowner retains ownership of the land; remains responsible for taxes; controls access; reserves the right to quiet enjoyment and undeveloped hunting, fishing, and other undeveloped recreational uses; and may sell or lease land enrolled in WRP. Other uses may be permitted providing NRCS determines the use is compatible with the restoration and protection of the wetland, and both protects and enhances the wetland functions and values.
If the NRCS approves your offer for a:
- Permanent easement, the government will provide an easement payment based on the lesser of the appraised value of the land, a geographic rate cap, or an amount offered by the landowner. The government will pay 100 percent of the restoration costs and the administrative costs associated with filing the easement (survey costs, legal fees, recording fees, etc.).
- 30-year easement or 30-year contract, the government will provide an easement payment that is 75 percent of the amount that would have been made for a permanent easement, up to 75 percent of the restoration costs and all of the administrative costs associated with filing the easement. For a 30-year contract no encumbrance on the land is established.
- On the Mississippi delta floodplain in Louisiana, one farmer cultivated rice in a zone of ridge and swale topography with heavy clay soil. The drainage to the Mississippi river had been blocked and water often backed up, flooding the field, resulting in no harvest or the inability to even plant during some wet years. The WRP agreement was to restore the hydrology of 640 acres by installing small dikes and outlets at the swales creating shallow water areas. Planting of bottomland hardwoods along the ridges further improved the land or wildlife habitat. A permanent easement paid the farmer a one-time fee of $500/acre, covered 100 percent of the restoration costs, and still enabled him to hold title to the land.
- In the previous example, if the landowner chose a 30-year easement, the same deed arrangement would be made, but just for the 30 years rather than as a permanent easement. WRP would have paid 75 percent of the restoration costs and 75 percent of the agricultural value of the land to the landowner.
- A dairy farmer in northern New England had continuous problems with a 30-acre hayfield within the floodplain of an adjacent river. Despite extensive ditching and other attempts to remove the water, some years the land was too wet to plow. The farmer opted for a permanent easement in the WRP to restore the 30 acres to wetland. He received a one-time payment of $500/acre, the costs of ditch plugging were reimbursed, and he now has the multiple benefits of a one-acre shallow pond, which had been made for a permanent easement, up to 75 percent of the restoration costs and all of the administrative costs associated with filing the easement. For a 30-year contract no encumbrance on the land is established.
- Restoration cost share agreement, the government will provide up to 75 percent of the restoration costs.
Application and Financial Information
To participate in the WRP, visit your local NRCS office, sign an application form and select one of the three enrollment options. Landowners work with NRCS personnel to draw up a preliminary Wetland Restoration Plan of Operations (WRPO), which describes the types of practices to be established, a timetable for establishing practices, and the estimated costs of restoration. The amount of taxes to be paid on the easement area is determined by the local taxing authority; the NRCS has no authority regarding property or other tax issues. You should seek this information before entering the WRP.
Eligibility, Uses, and Restrictions
To be eligible for the program, a landowner must have a clear title and own the land for at least 7 years with some exceptions. The land must be restorable to wetland conditions. Eligible lands must be private or land owned by Indian Tribes, and include wetlands farmed under natural conditions, farmed wetlands, prior converted cropland, commenced converted wetlands, farmed wetland pasture, or land substantially altered by flooding. Your local NRCS office can help you decide if your land is eligible. The landowner continues to control access to the land. At any time, a landowner may request additional activities be evaluated to determine if they are compatible uses for the site. This request may include such items as permission to cut hay, graze livestock or harvest wood products. Compatible uses may be allowed if they are fully consistent with the protection and enhancement of the wetland.
For more information on restoring wetlands, contact a Local USDA Service Center, which can be found through the NRCS website: http://www.nrcs.gov/ contact.which can be found through the NRCS website: www.nrcs.usda.gov/contact/.