U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this month that farmers, ranchers and Indian Tribes in the United States enrolled over 272,000 acres in the Wetlands Reserve Program, or WRP, in fiscal year 2010. The fiscal year 2010 enrollment is the highest single-year enrollment in the program's history and is a 52 percent increase over fiscal year 2009 when 179,000 acres were enrolled. There are now more than 2.3 million acres enrolled in Wetland Reserve Program nationwide.
"Through this historic enrollment in this proven conservation program, landowners and conservation partners are affirming their commitment to restoring and protecting the nation's wetland resources," said Secretary Vilsack. "Wetlands are essential to a healthy environment, and conservation-minded landowners are improving water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, mitigating floods and improving the overall environment for all Americans."
The Wetland Reserve Program, the federal government's largest wetlands restoration program, provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Indian Tribes to restore, protect and enhance wetlands that have been degraded or converted for agricultural uses. More than 80 percent of restorable wetlands in the United States are in private ownership. Participation in the program is voluntary.
Estimated to have covered more than 220 million acres during colonial times, wetlands in the lower 48 states are now less than half that amount. Wetland losses in some states are more than 90 percent. More than 40 percent of federally listed species and over 50 percent of migratory birds require wetland habitats during some portion of their life cycle.
Through this program, marginal farm or ranchland is restored to its natural state. Potential flood damage to farms and ranches is reduced and vital wetland ecosystems are restored and protected.
The Wetland Reserve Program is administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS. In fiscal year 2010, NRCS restored 129,000 acres of wetlands on lands enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Program. NRCS offers WRP enrollment to private landowners and Indian Tribes on a continuous sign-up basis. The agency provides financial and technical assistance to eligible landowners and invests in wetland protection and restoration activities.
The Wetland Reserve Program is one of many ways in which the United States Government is fostering partnership with the private sector in protecting the environment.