May is National Wetlands Month, making it the perfect time to celebrate one of nature’s most productive ecosystems.Wetlands improve water quality downstream, protect nearby towns from flooding, enhance and protect wildlife habitat and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities.
Wetlands are important to protect because, although they only cover a small portion of the continental U.S., half of all North American bird species use wetlands for feeding or nesting. Additionally, more than one-third of all threatened or endangered species are dependent on wetland habitat. These productive areas also play host to nearly one-third of all plant species on Earth.
The greatest potential for wetland restoration exists on privately owned forests, ranches and farms. In fact, 75 percent of the nation’s wetlands are located on private and tribal lands.
This year, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) celebrates 25 years of protecting wetlands. During this time, NRCS has helped thousands of landowners enroll acreage – in record numbers – to protect, restore and enhance critical wetlands on their property.
Private landowners and entities such as land trusts and conservation organizations have enrolled 2.7 million acres through 14,500 agreements for a total NRCS and partner investment of $4.3 billion in financial and technical assistance.
NRCS and its partners used the former Wetland Reserve Program to ensure they achieved the greatest wetland functions and values, along with optimum wildlife habitat, on every enrolled acre.
The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated WRP into the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program’s Wetland Reserve Easement component to streamline program administration and make it easier for landowners to participate in the program.
With NRCS financial and technical assistance, states, non-governmental organizations and tribes will continue to leverage resources to achieve maximum benefits with wetlands restoration and protection and wildlife habitat.
For example, wildlife habitat created from wetland easements can help prevent listing under the Endangered Species Act and accelerate the recovery of at-risk species. Both the Oregon chubb and Louisiana black bear were delisted due to the many landowners who enrolled their land into conservation easements.
In Florida, ranchers are actively engaged in conservation projects to protect the Everglades, the primary source of drinking water for 7 million Floridians.
Ninety-five percent of the 100,000 acres enrolled into easements during the past five years in Florida were located in the Northern Everglades Watershed.
Conservation wetland easements will continue to serve as a critical tool in a landowner’s toolbox for wetland restoration, protection and enhancement. If you’re interested in exploring conservation easements for your property, contact your local USDA service center.