(Little Rock) Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced this week that USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and its partners will invest nearly $32 million this year in financial and technical assistance for five water quality and wetlands improvement projects in seven Mississippi River Basin states. Arkansas’ Cache River will receive over $3 million.
The $3 million will be available for private landowners interested in enrolling into the NRCS’ Wetland Reserve Enhancement Program, which will help prevent sediment and nutrients from entering the Cache River, decrease flooding and improve wildlife habitat.
“These projects are great examples of USDA working with partners to improve water quality in the Mississippi River Basin,” Vilsack said. “Through these projects, agricultural producers are voluntarily taking action to restore and protect wetlands on private lands in watersheds that USDA has identified as being critical to water quality restoration in the basin.”
“Many private landowners were financially impacted from the flooding last year. The Nature Conservancy applied for the funding for private landowners along the Cache River to help them reduce flood impacts, and we are very excited about this additional funding for them,” said Scott Simon, state director for The Nature Conservancy’s Arkansas Chapter. “The Nature Conservancy appreciates NRCS for identifying the Cache River as a priority and for their good cooperative work with private landowners in the area.”
The Nature Conservancy’s role will be to assist interested landowners in enrollment in the Wetland Reserve Program.
To compete for the funding, projects such as the Cache River must provide a 5% local cost share match. Simon thanked the Walton Family Foundation for providing the local match so that the Cache River could receive the NRCS funds. The Walton Family Foundation has a strong focus on bottomland hardwood conservation and restoration on private lands in the Lower Mississippi River Alluvial Valley as part of their interest in ensuring healthy and resilient communities within the Mississippi River Basin.
Landowners interested in applying for funding should contact their local NRCS office. Signup dates may vary based on the individual project.
NRCS provides funding for these new projects through its Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP), part of the agency’s Wetlands Reserve Program. Since 2010, NRCS has formalized WREP agreements under the Mississippi River Basin Initiative with 47 landowners in the Mississippi River Basin, investing $17.8 million in long-term conservation easements and wetland restoration projects. Learn more about the WREP and find out about other NRCS programs and initiatives.
The Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program and Wetlands Reserve Program are authorized by the U.S. Farm Bill, which will expire later this year. Discussions are underway in Congress for a new Farm Bill, and The Nature Conservancy believes strong support for conservation programs such as these in the 2012 legislation is critical for continuing important projects such as this work along the Cache River.
NRCS is celebrating the 20th anniversary of WRP this year. More than 11,000 of America’s private landowners have voluntarily enrolled over 2.3 million acres into the WRP. 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. Visit the WRP web page.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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