USDA helps landowners conserve wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat

Farm Forum

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide $3.6 million in financial assistance for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota farmers and ranchers to help conserve wetlands and improve habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, control flooding and strengthen rural economies. The funding is available through the Water Bank Program (WBP), and NRCS will accept applications from now until April 18, 2014.

“The Water Bank Program provides a unique opportunity to keep water on the land for the benefit of wildlife, such as waterfowl, while also contributing to flood control, water quality and rural economies,” said NRCS Chief Jason Weller.

Through WBP, landowners receive annual payments through a 10-year rental agreement for conserving and protecting wetlands and adjacent lands that may otherwise be used for annual crop production or other activities that require drainage. The program also helps restore upland habitat for more than 300 species of migratory birds that rely on the Prairie Pothole region for breeding, nesting and resting.

Severe flooding of agriculture land has been a problem in this region and has affected hundreds of farmers. In 2012, landowners enrolled more than 15,000 acres into the Water Bank Program. Eligible land for this year’s WBP included flooded agricultural land, flooded hay, pasture or rangeland and flooded private forestland.

“Through Water Bank, landowners receive assistance as they turn their perpetually flooded lands into great benefits to our wildlife populations,” said Weller.

WBP funding will not cover the cost of conservation practices to enhance wetlands and contracts will not be renewed after the original contract expires. If conservation practices are required to improve migratory bird habitat, eligible landowners and operators can apply to other NRCS financial assistance programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or available state conservation programs.

WBP is part of a larger NRCS effort to help landowners conserve grasslands and wetlands in the Prairie Pothole region. Maintaining wetlands and grasslands in the region provide diverse benefits, including water quality protection, potential flood reduction, carbon sequestration and enhanced wetland and wildlife habitat.

Interested landowners should contact their local USDA Service Center to learn more about the program and submit an application prior to the April 18 deadline. More information is also available on the NRCS Water Bank Program website.