Wetlands Reserve Program
What is the Wetlands Reserve Program?
The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is a voluntary program that provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and tribes to restore, protect and enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring eligible land from agriculture under a conservation easement.
What is the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program?
The Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP) is a component of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). It leverages assistance from NRCS partners to provide financial and technical assistance to eligible landowners to protect, restore and enhance wetlands and improve wildlife habitat, including threatened and endangered species. The Wabash River Corridor WREP project includes nine Indiana counties: Posey, Gibson, Knox, Sullivan, Vigo, Vermillion, Parke, Fountain and Warren. Farmers in those counties who have land in the Wabash River floodplain and meet WRP requirements, are eligible for participation.
What are the benefits of the Wetlands Reserve Program?
There are many benefits to the Wetlands Reserve Program. The program:
- Offers payment, based on the agricultural value, for wetlands that have previously been drained and converted to agricultural uses.
- Pays up to 100 percent reimbursement for restoration costs.
- Lets landowners retain control of access.
- Lets landowners maintain ownership of land – they have the right to hunt, fish, trap and pursue other appropriate recreational uses.
- Allows for land, including any easement, to be sold
- Provides additional benefits for the entire community, such as:
- Improved water quality enhanced habitat for wildlife
- Reduced soil erosion
- Reduced flooding
- Improved water supply
Landowner Use and Responsibility
In all cases, the landowner retains ownership and responsibility for the land, including any property taxes based on its reassessed value as wetland or nonagricultural land. The landowner controls access to the land; has the right to hunt, fish, trap, and pursue other appropriate recreational uses; and may sell or lease land enrolled in WRP.
The landowner may request uses which are compatible with protecting and enhancing the wetland and associated upland habitat. Landowners may make compatible-use requests throughout the life of the easement or agreement. Compatible Use Agreements may be issued for activities that meet the purposes and intent of the WRP, as determined by NRCS in conjunction with USFWS.
Additional information about WRP
To offer a conservation easement, you must have owned the land for at least seven (7) years prior to enrollment, with limited exceptions.
To be eligible for WRP, land must be restorable and be suitable for wildlife benefits. This includes:
- Prior converted agricultural ground with hydric (wetland) soils.
- Agricultural lands substantially altered by flooding.
- In some instances, wetlands previously restored under a Local, State or Federal program, without permanent protection are eligible but this must be examined on a case-by-case basis.
The above eligible land may be matched on a 1:1 ratio with
- Upland, non-hydric agricultural land that can be restored to beneficial buffer habitat.
- Other adjacent lands that provide habitat value and enhance the purpose of the program including existing wetlands, woodlands, or other habitat types.
- Wetlands converted after December 23, 1985.
- Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands where trees have been successfully established.
- Government lands. (May be purchased by government entities after easement is recorded)
- Lands where conditions make restoration impossible, including those with potential offsite impacts.
- Lands currently under easement.
WRP offers three options to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands and associated uplands: permanent easements, 30-year easements or 10-year restoration cost-share agreements.
This is a conservation easement in perpetuity. The easement is attached to the property deed, ensuring that future owners of the property will preserve the wetland for generations. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will pay 100 percent of the cost of the restoration and legal costs to establish the easement. In addition, the landowner receives a payment for a permanent easement which will be the lesser of:
- The geographical area rate cap (link to our page about Geographical Rate Caps and PDF)
- An amount offered by the landowner.
These easements expire at the end of 30 years. Easement payments are 75 percent of what would be paid for a permanent easement and 75 percent of the restoration costs. USDA will pay legal costs associated with establishing the easement.
Restoration Cost-share Agreements
This is a 10-year agreement (special circumstances may warrant a longer term) to restore degraded or destroyed wetlands and associated upland habitat. USDA pays up to 75 percent of the cost of the restoration. No easement is placed on the property and there is no easement or other land incentive payment.
Contact your local NRCS office.
Begin by making an appointment with your local NRCS office. At that time, you may:
- Review eligibility and easement requirements.
- Submit a signed application form. (This is only an application, not a commitment by the landowner.)
- Provide a copy of the property deed and register with the Farm Service Agency if you are not already in their Service Center Information Management System.
2. Preliminary restoration plan and cost estimate
NRCS will visit the site and evaluate the land’s eligibility, and rank it based on environmental benefits, restoration suitability, and cost effectiveness, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Then, NRCS - in conjunction with the landowner, USFWS, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the local conservation district – develops a preliminary plan for restoring the wetland. The plan includes types practices, any necessary structures and estimated costs associated with restoration. The purpose of the plan is to examine the proposed restoration measures so that reliable cost estimates can be used for ranking and the landowner can decide if the restoration fits with his/her future plans for the land.
3. Competitive selection
Applications will be ranked to ensure that the most environmentally and economically valuable wetlands are restored with funds that are available.
4. Notification of acceptance
All applications will be notified of the status of their application, and whether it has been tentatively accepted. If accepted under the easement options, NRCS will make an offer to the landowner, based on the Geographic Area Rate Caps, for the value of the easement.
WRP Success Stories: “Restoring America’s Wetlands: A Private Lands Conservation Success Story”
More than 11,000 of America’s private landowners have voluntarily enrolled over 2.3 million acres into the Wetlands Reserve Program. The cumulative benefits of these wetlands reach well beyond their boundaries to improve watershed health, the vitality of agricultural lands, and the aesthetics and economies of local communities. Help us celebrate 20 years of restoring America’s Wetlands and download this commemorative publication featuring success stories from the Wetland Reserve Program:
For more information on the Wetlands Reserve Program, contact your local District Conservationists.
Geographic Area Rate Caps (GARC)
The Geographic Area Rate Caps (GARC) are determined annually for the Wetlands Reserve Program. These caps are used to determine the set price of easement offers to landowners by county and by landuse type. Caps are set for individual counties with an ag land value used on those lands that are cropland, hayland or pasture. Non-ag land is used for woodland, wildlife land, and those lands that have not been farmed, hayed or pastured in the past ten years. GARC values are reviewed on an annual basis and approved by the State Conservationist in conjunction with the State Technical Committee.