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USDA funds agricultural wetland mitigation banks in 10 states

WASHINGTON -- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller recently announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing more than $7 million to fund agricultural wetland mitigation banks in 10 Midwest and Northern Great Plain states.

The Wetland Mitigation Banking Program, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, helps states, local governments or other qualified partners develop wetland mitigation banks that restore, create, or enhance wetland ecosystems, broadening the conservation options available to farmers and ranchers so they can maintain eligibility for other USDA programs.

“Wetlands are vital and dynamic ecosystems that provide important functions—from groundwater recharge to prime wildlife habitat,” Weller said. “USDA’s new Wetland Mitigation Banking Program will ensure meaningful wetland restoration and protection on the landscape while expanding options for farmers and ranchers.”

Wetland mitigation banking uses a market-based approach to restore, create, or enhance wetlands in one place to compensate for unavoidable impacts to wetlands at another location. Banked wetland mitigation credits are made available after the restoration, creation, or enhancement of previously converted wetlands protected by a conservation easement. Wetland mitigation requires the replacement of all lost wetland functions, values, and acres.

The announcement includes funding for eight new wetland mitigation banks, and will help two existing banks expand to meet the needs of agriculture operations. Below is a list of impacted states and selected projects in our area:

• Michigan – Michigan Quality of Life Agencies (Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and Department of Environmental Quality)

• Ohio – North Coast Regional Council of Park Districts

This announcement follows a request for proposals earlier in 2016. USDA sought projects that would support local efforts to conserve wetlands in geographic areas where the potential for agricultural wetland conversion is high. USDA also considered the applicants’ experience with wetland mitigation banking and their ability to provide wetland credits within two years.