Deadline for Conservation Easement Funding is Approaching

Randall Weiseman Ag "Outdoors", Florida, Livestock, Specialty Crops, USDA-NRCS

GAINESVILLE, FL, April 26, 2013 — USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Florida is calling for applications from landowners interested in restoring or enhancing wetlands and/or grasslands on their private lands; especially in the 17 county Everglades priority area.

Roney Gutierrez, NRCS Acting State Conservationist announced today that applications for the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) are being accepted at all NRCS offices. In addition, there will be special funding available through the Everglades Initiative (EI). NRCS employees can supply more information and help landowners decide which program would work best for them.

Although the application process for 2008 Farm Bill conservation programs is continuous, the cutoff date for consideration for Federal Fiscal Year 2013 funds in these programs in Florida is May 28, 2013. Applications received after that date will be considered for future funding periods.

• The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is a voluntary easement program designed to provide a financial incentive to private landowners to encourage the protection and restoration of historically wetlands that have been drained. Most applications are for the permanent easement option, where NRCS pays a per-acre easement fee, plus 100 percent of the cost to restore the agricultural lands back to natural wetland ecosystems.

• The Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) is a voluntary conservation easement program that emphasizes support for working grazing operations, enhancement of plant and animal biodiversity, and protection of grassland under threat of conversion to other uses. Participants voluntarily limit future development and cropping uses of the land while retaining the right to conduct common grazing practices and operations related to the production of forage and seeding. A grazing management plan is required for participants.

• The Everglades Initiative (EI) covers 17 counties: Broward, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Okeechobee, Palm Beach, Highlands, Glades, Lee, Martin, Osceola, Orange, Indian River and St. Lucie. NRCS works with landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that improve water quality, control invasive plant species, benefit wildlife and fish habitat and support rural economies in the Florida Everglades region.

By 1984, over half of all the wetlands in the U.S. had been drained or filled for development or agriculture. Today, natural wetlands are still being lost, but at a much slower rate than in the past. In an increasingly urban state like Florida, wetlands and grasslands are dwindling and habitat for wildlife is being lost. Stewardship by private landowners is vital to the health of our Nation’s environment. NRCS is encouraging landowners, farmers and ranchers to visit their local NRCS office now to receive more information and apply for these programs before May 28, 2013.