NRCS offers water bank program to protect wetlands, wildlife
By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, April 7 - Landowners with flooded lands may find another way to still generate income this year. USDA announced Friday that landowners in selected states can apply for funds to protect wetlands and preserve wildlife habitat on those acres.
U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White announced that $7 million in financial assistance will be available to help eligible landowners and operators in three states voluntarily enhance wildlife habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. The selected states-Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota-will begin to accept applications on April 20, 2012.
The newly funded Water Bank Program (WBP) provides landowners and operators with an alternative use for their flooded or frequently flooded lands, such as quality wildlife habitat for priority migratory bird species,” White said. “When landowners and operators choose to conserve wetlands on private lands in this region, they are protecting more than 300 species of migratory birds that rely on the prairie pothole region for breeding, nesting and resting.”
WBP will focus on flood reduction this fiscal year. Severe flooding of agricultural land has been a problem in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, parts of which lie in the prairie pothole region. Eligible land for this year's WBP included flooded agricultural land, flooded hay, pasture or rangeland, and flooded private forestland.
The intent of WBP is to keep water on the land for the benefit of migratory wildlife such as waterfowl. Landowners and operators can sign new 10-year rental agreements to protect wetlands and provide wildlife habitat. Landowners receive annual payments for conserving and protecting wetlands and adjacent lands from adverse land uses and activities, such as drainage, that would destroy the wetland characteristics of those lands.
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.
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