Since the fall of 2007, I’ve been working for the Minnesota Waterfowl Association to help bring more wetlands, prairie, and waterfowl habitat to Minnesota. My job is the result of a cooperative partnership between the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This unique partnership provides me with everything I need to help private land owners restore and protect habitat on their properties in Northwestern and West Central Minnesota.
The conservation program that I work with is called the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). WRP is a USDA program. It’s authorized in the Farm Bill and is administered by the NRCS. My job is to help the NRCS in delivering the program to landowners.
WRP is a voluntary program that gives landowners the opportunity to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. The NRCS provides technical and financial support to those landowners who qualify for WRP. Nationally, WRP occurs in every state with Louisiana having the most acres enrolled (221,449) and Alaska with the fewest acres (17). In Minnesota, WRP comes in the form of a private lands easement. In exchange for the WRP payment, landowners enroll marginal cropland where wetlands and prairie are restored and then protected perpetually. The landowner continues to own the land and control access to their land.
Recently in Minnesota, the NRCS has combined efforts with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources’ (BWSR) Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve Program (RIM) to form the RIM WRP Partnership. By joining forces, the RIM WRP Partnership is able to offer more competitive payments to landowners seeking permanent easements on their land.
The emphasis area for WRP and now RIM WRP is the historic prairie region of Minnesota where the most wetland drainage and habitat loss has occurred. For a piece of land to be eligible, it must contain at least one drained wetland that is restorable. Applications for RIM WRP go through a scoring and ranking process to determine the best sites for funding. Payment rates have been established on a township by township basis.
Once a property is enrolled into RIM WRP, the restoration work begins. The site has a detailed topographic survey done to aid with the wetland restoration planning and engineering. Seeding plans are developed for the prairie restoration. Seed mixes typically contain around 25-30 native prairie species. The majority of those species are forbs that provide great diversity for a wide range of wildlife. Once the planting becomes fully established, controlled burns may be used to help keep the cover productive. The entire restoration process will typically take a few years to complete.
If you own land and are interested in RIM WRP, stop by your local Soil & Water Conservation Office and NRCS county office for more information.
A restored WRP site in Mahnomen County is in full bloom. Now fully restored, this former drained and cropped wetland is producing Canvasbacks.