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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced April 5 the availability of $15 million to help eligible conservation partners leverage local investments to provide technical assistance and financial resources for wetlands protection and improvements on private and Tribal agricultural land nationwide.

The Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) is one way state and local governments, non-governmental organizations and Tribal governments collaborate with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to increase the number of voluntary conservation projects for targeted, high-priority wetland protection, restoration and enhancement. Local and regional WREP partners match federal funding and technical assistance to increase the assistance they can provide to eligible private landowners interested in enrolling their agricultural land into conservation wetland easements. WREP is a special enrollment option under USDA’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).

“USDA is committed to protecting and enhancing our nation’s wetlands, which are critical to the quality of our nation’s waters, wildlife and landscapes,” said NRCS Chief Jason Weller. “We are looking to our partners for innovative project proposals so we can expand our work on critical wetlands and yield results that make project participants proud.”

Wetland reserve easements allow landowners to 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 their communities.

USDA is now accepting proposals for funding. Proposals must be submitted to NRCS state offices by May 16, 2016. More information is available on the NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program webpage.

Collectively, NRCS easement programs help productive farm, ranch and grasslands continue in agricultural production and protect the nation's critical wetlands and grasslands. In 2014 and 2015, NRCS invested more than $600 million in ACEP funding to help landowners engage in voluntary conservation that provides long-term protection of an estimated 250,000 acres of farmland, grassland and wetlands through more than 750 new easements. Under the former Wetlands Reserve Program, private landowners, tribes and conservation organizations enrolled 2.7 million acres through 14,500 agreements for a total NRCS and partner investment of $4.3 billion in assistance on private and Tribal lands.

Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $29 billion to help producers make conservation improvements, working with as many as 500,000 farmers, ranchers and landowners to protect over 400 million acres nationwide, boosting soil and air quality, cleaning and conserving water and enhancing wildlife habitat. Please visit https://medium.com/usda-results for an interactive look at USDA’s work in conservation and forestry over the course of the Administration.

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