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Missouri Has $25 Million to Restore Wetlands

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  The USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has more than $25 million to help Missouri landowners restore wetlands.

  Most of the available funds are part of a $175 million package announced May 14 by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that will restore about 75,000 acres of wetlands in 22 states through NRCS' Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP).

  Missouri's portion of the funding is expected to help landowners add 9,200 acres to the state's 800,000 acres of wetlands. Last year, WRP easements totaling $5.9 million were approved that will restore 3,025 acres of wetlands in Missouri.

  "We are hoping to significantly increase WRP applications this year," says Kevin Dacey, Missouri NRCS natural resources specialist. "More people are becoming interested in taking advantage of the Wetlands Reserve Program as an opportunity to convert marginal farmland, and we want to assist them in a timely manner."

  Wetlands are areas saturated by water all or most of the year. Often called "nature's kidneys," wetlands naturally filter contaminants out of water. Wetlands also recharge groundwater; reduce flooding and soil erosion; support diverse populations of wildlife, plants and fish; improve aesthetics; and offer recreational opportunities. 

  At one time, wetlands covered 4.8 million acres of Missouri, primarily in the "Bootheel" region of southeastern Missouri. They began to decline in the late 1800s amid competing land uses, and today 800,000 acres remain. That total includes more than 130,000 acres of wetlands that have been restored in Missouri through WRP.

  WRP provides technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to increase wetlands. The voluntary program strives to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values and to receive optimum wildlife habitat benefits on every acre enrolled.  WRP participants limit their future use of the land, but retain private ownership.

  Participating landowners can select permanent easements that provide a one-time payment up to $2,800 per acre and up to 100 percent of wetland restoration costs, or 30-year easements that pay up to $2,100 per acre and up to 75 percent of the restoration costs. WRP also offers cost-share agreements to restore wetland functions and values without placing an easement on enrolled acres.

  Dacey says fields that frequently flood and fields in which it is difficult to produce crops because of wet soils are good candidates for WRP.

  "WRP is a great alternative for landowners with flood-prone fields or fields containing wet areas," he says. "By working with the natural tendencies of the land, they minimize cropping obstacles, improve the environment, and still recognize economic gains."

  To apply for WRP, or to get more information about it and other NRCS programs, contact the NRCS office serving your county. Look in the phone book under "U.S. Government, Department of Agriculture," or access this website: http://offices.usda.gov. Information also is available online at: http://www.mo.nrcs.usda.gov/.