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Wetlands Reserve Program

Teddy Bears are Alive and Well Thanks to Stewardship-Minded Farmers in Louisiana

Fresh into my career as a wildlife biologist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), two things happened: a new Farm Bill conservation program was born, and the Louisiana black bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Both were very connected, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

The new program was the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), created in the 1990 Farm Bill and piloted in 1992 in nine states, including Louisiana. This program provides technical and financial assistance to farmers who want to voluntarily restore and protect wetlands with long-term conservation easements, enabling them to restore difficult-to-farm cropland back into wetlands.

USDA Employee Named "Recovery Champion" for Oregon Chub Conservation Efforts

The Oregon Chub is making waves in history. This February, it became the first fish to be delisted from the Endangered Species List because of recovery (not extinction).

This success is directly attributable to more than 20 years of hard work by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), private landowners and other conservation partners.

While many people were involved in the recovery effort, the USFWS recognized 12 professionals who represent outstanding leadership in their respective agencies to recover the species. These individuals were honored during a “Recovery Champions” awards ceremony May 28 at the Finley National Wildlife Refuge in Corvallis, Oregon.

Saving the Nation's Wetlands

Wetlands are one of nature’s most productive ecosystems. They clean and recharge groundwater; reduce the damaging impacts of floods; enhance wildlife habitat; sequester carbon; and create diverse recreation opportunities such as hunting, fishing, birdwatching and canoeing.

Thousands of landowners voluntarily take big and small actions every day to protect, restore and enhance wetlands and wildlife habitat. Seventy-five percent of the nation’s wetlands are located on private and tribal lands.

Vanished Rabbit Reappears on Central California's Dos Rios Ranch

Some exciting news recently came from a large wetlands restoration project now underway in Central California. River Partners, a nonprofit conservation organization, documented the first occurrence of a state and federally endangered rabbit on its habitat preserve at Dos Rios Ranch, a key piece of riverfront habitat located at the confluence of the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers in Stanislaus County.

Thanks to a generous loan of wildlife cameras from a professor at the University of California, Davis, River Partners’ summer interns captured images of riparian brush rabbits at Dos Rios Ranch in July in remnant riparian habitat along the Tuolumne River. Riparian brush rabbits are a critically endangered subspecies of rabbit that was thought to be extinct following catastrophic flooding in 1997.

Conservation Groups, Farmers Protect & Restore Precious Puget Sound Estuary

When many people think of Washington State, they imagine rain, coffee and apples. My view is much more complex and nuanced, thanks to our team at NRCS who showed me diverse agricultural landscapes, including the state’s major estuary - Puget Sound.

During my visit, I was greeted by an idyllic landscape steeped in history. Early settlers to the Puget Sound area converted marshlands into pastures and hayfields. We visited one such area now known as Klingel Wetlands, where levee systems were installed in the 1890s and 1950s to prevent flooding.

At a Washington Ranch, It's for the Birds - and Elk

Most landowners would give up when faced with the challenges on Nine Pine Ranch near Chewelah, Washington, but not Glen Hafer. After trying for 40 years to farm his piece of land in the Colville River Valley, Hafer decided to convert it back to its original glory – wetlands.

Historically, the land in this valley flooded annually from the river, but settlers drained the area to farm. With no wetlands to hold water, flooding in the area worsened over time, making the land tough to farm.

When Hafer took the reins of his family’s land, he wanted to do something different. He was already – as he puts it – “semi-retired” and wanted to use his land to support his family.

Kentucky Youngster Sees Firsthand the Importance of Wetland Restoration

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps private landowners return fields and pastures that were drained for agricultural use back to their natural state – wetlands. This is because of the value that wetlands provide: they filter and store water, they prevent floods and they provide vital homes to wildlife.

Mark Putman in Christian County, Ky. is seeing the benefits on land he enrolled into a conservation easement with NRCS. Thanks to the wetland restoration project, he and his 10-year-old cousin, A.J., have a great story to tell.

Putman owns and operates a guided and non-guided hunting operation, so restoring the land to attract more wildlife was important. He and his family also enjoy hunting deer, ducks and turkey.

A Wetland Returns to its "Roots" Through a Conservation Easement

If the land floods more often than growing a crop, why not let it go back to what it wants to be – a wetland. That’s what happened on the Hoppe Heritage Farmstead in 2011. The Hoppe sisters owned cropland along the southern branch of the Kishwaukee River in DeKalb County, Ill. About half of the land would flood on a regular basis.

After several years of dealing with the floods, the sisters decided to do something about it. They sold the homestead to the DeKalb County Forest Preserve District, which preserves and restores landscapes and their plant and animal life.

Terry Hannan, the forest preserve’s superintendent, contacted USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service about a conservation easement as a possible opportunity to improve the land.

Restored Wetland Doubles as Outdoor Classroom for High School Students

A 53-acre conservation easement is an ideal environmental learning lab for students at Francis Hugh Wardlaw Academy in Johnston, South Carolina.  The land was once pastures for cattle, but now it’s a vibrant wetland just across the street from the high school.

The contractor hired to install the restoration work, Charles Kemp, was instrumental in involving the school’s students in creating and managing the wetland. “These students are exploring what a career in agriculture or environmental science would be like, and they love being outside and escaping the confines of the classroom,” Kemp said.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service provided technical and financial assistance to develop the restoration plan, and install the structures and earthwork to convert the wet pasture into a functioning wetland.

Partnerships and Volunteers Bring a Midwest Wetland to Life

Now, when you look at the Nygren Wetland Preserve in Illinois, a menagerie of wildlife can be seen –  ducks and geese paddling about, white pelicans lounging, otters swimming and a pair of sandhill cranes huddling in a nest. There was talk of the endangered blanding turtles living in the wetland, too. It’s a wonderful scene, but it was much different 14 years ago.

The land, located along Raccoon Creek at the confluence of the Rock and Pecatonica rivers, was once forests and crops. The Natural Land Institute purchased the land in 1999, and that’s when transformation began.