U.S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday announced a total of $30 million in grants for conservation improvements in six states: Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska and Tennessee.
The funds will be used to acquire and restore prairie pothole wetlands and associated tallgrass prairie uplands in five sites within Prairie Pothole Joint Venture Priority Areas and Ducks Unlimited Living Lakes Initiative Emphasis Areas.
Vilsack made the conservation program announcement while in Des Moines, Iowa, where he spoke at the 2015 World Food Prize symposium. For Iowa, this expansion of wetland protection programs is a $3 million investment in Iowa through partner-led work that will nearly double the number of acres of wetlands protected and restored in various parts of the state.
Projects are funded by Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership
The prairie pothole project is being funded under the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership, a program created and authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
WREP is a special enrollment option under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program's Wetland Reserve Easement component.
Through WREP, which is administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, states, local units of governments, non-governmental organizations and American Indian tribes collaborate with NRCS through cooperative and partnership agreements. These partners work with tribal and private landowners who voluntarily enroll eligible land into easements to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their properties.
Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to successfully enhance and protect habitat for wildlife on their lands, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities.
The voluntary nature of NRCS' easement programs allows effective integration of wetland restoration on working landscapes, providing benefits to farmers and ranchers who enroll in the program, as well as benefits to local and rural communities where the wetlands exist.
WREP project detail >>
The 2015-2016 WREP projects announced include:
• Iowa: Partners will acquire and restore prairie pothole wetlands and associated tallgrass prairie uplands on five sites within Prairie Pothole Joint Venture Priority Areas and Ducks Unlimited Living Lakes Initiative Emphasis Areas. Partner contributions will nearly double the acres of wetlands that will be protected and restored. NRCS plans to invest $3 million in this project.
• Kentucky: Partners will acquire and restore wetlands in high priority small watersheds to reduce sediment and nutrients entering the Mississippi River. NRCS plans to invest $9.4 million.
• Mississippi: Partners will increase the acres acquired and wetlands restored in the Mississippi River Basin that provide habitat, improve water quality, and provide outdoor recreational opportunities. NRCS plans to invest $2.4 million.
• Missouri: Partners will enhance 9,500 acres of existing wetlands and restore 500 acres of critically imperiled wet prairie habitats on existing USDA easements improving a total of 10,000 acres. Strong partner support across 30 counties will build on the success of ongoing conservation easement programs in the state. NRCS plans to invest $2.4 million in this project.
• Nebraska: Partners will build on previous WREP projects to acquire and restore the state's playa wetlands and mixed-grass prairie buffers. NRCS plans to invest $1.7 million.
• Tennessee: Partners will work to acquire and restore wetlands in a Hypoxia Task Force priority watershed in in six states along the lower Mississippi River, reducing the sediment and nutrients entering the river while improving wildlife habitat. NRCS plans to invest $8.4 million.
WREP partners contribute a funding match for financial or technical assistance. These partners work directly with eligible landowners interested in enrolling their agricultural land into conservation wetland easements.
Today's awards build on the more than $330 million USDA announced in fiscal year 2015 to protect and restore agricultural working lands, grasslands and wetlands. Under the former Wetlands Reserve Program, private landowners, tribes and partner 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.
Visit NRCS's ACEP webpage to learn more about NRCS's wetland conservation opportunities.
New NRCS chief in Iowa >>
Kurt Simon introduced as new chief of NRCS in Iowa
Secretary Vilsack made the conservation wetlands program announcement at the Des Moines Botanical Garden. It was part of an event focusing on USDA conservation work in Iowa that included the appointment of Kurt Simon as the new Iowa State Conservationist for USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"Kurt Simon is the kind of leader who builds locally led partnerships so that USDA conservation programs can target the places where there is both great need and great support," Vilsack said. "The locally-driven projects he will help guide will improve water quality, prevent flooding, enhance wildlife habitat and meet increasing conservation challenges while strengthening Iowa's robust agricultural economy."
Kurt Simon has 31 years' experience in conservation with USDA, most recently serving as Tennessee NRCS assistant state conservationist for field operations in Knoxville. He holds degrees in wildlife management from Hocking College and agronomy from Ohio State University.
Simon began his career as a Conservation District Technician in Ohio, served in field offices in West Virginia and Tennessee and at NRCS Headquarters in DC. He has served as liaison to the National Wild Turkey Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and graduated from the NRCS Emerging Leadership Development Program through George Washington University in 2012.
As the new state conservationist in Iowa, Simon will oversee NRCS programs in the state and work with stakeholders to drive projects that address local resource concerns like the WREP project announced today by Vilsack. As of 2014, USDA and the Obama Administration have invested more than $2 billion in efforts to conserve and protect Iowa's land, water and air resources.