USDA is starting a new wetland protection system. USDA is providing $9 million, leveraging further public and private funds to create new mitigation opportunities for farmers. Tell me more. Where can I sign up?
Answer: U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the establishment of the NRCS Wetland Mitigation Banking Program, made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. Through the program, NRCS will provide $9 million to help states, local governments or other qualified partners develop wetland mitigation banks that restore, create or enhance wetland ecosystems. The purpose is to broaden the conservation options available to farmers so they can maintain eligibility for other USDA programs.
"Over the past seven years, USDA has worked with private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation practices; and we are seeing significant reductions in nutrient runoff and greenhouse gas emissions. Wetland Mitigation Banks will give farmers and ranchers more conservation options so they can find the best solution for their land and circumstances, and produce even more results," Vilsack said.
A market-based approach to wetland mitigation
Wetland mitigation banking is a market-based approach that involves restoring, creating or enhancing wetlands in one place to compensate for unavoidable impacts to wetlands at another location. Wetland mitigation banking is commonly used to compensate for wetland impacts from development, but can also be used to offset impacts from agriculture.
A small number of banks have been developed in the U.S. specifically to assist agriculture. The mitigation banks established under this program will be used to help agricultural producers who need to mitigate wetland losses to maintain eligibility for USDA programs.
Eligible “third party” participants urged to apply
NRCS is seeking applications from eligible third-parties to develop wetland mitigation banks, or modify existing banks to better serve farmers. These third-parties include federally recognized Indian tribes; state and local units of government; for-profit entities; and nongovernmental organizations.
The maximum award provided through this announcement is up to $1 million. This funding may be used to cover administrative and technical costs associated with development of a wetland mitigation bank or banking program. Funding may not be used to purchase an easement or any other interest in land.
Partners will develop, operate and manage the wetlands mitigation banks with technical oversight from NRCS, and will market mitigation credits to farmers. Credits must be made available to producers within two years after the agreement is signed.
Proposals are due to NRCS before or on March 28
NRCS is prioritizing funding to locations that have a significant known wetland compliance workload. These locations include the Prairie Pothole Region, California Vernal Pool Region, Nebraska Rainwater Basin Region, and other areas that have significant numbers of wetlands compliance requests. Priority will also be given to applications based on the speed with which mitigation credits can be made available to ag producers.
USDA is now accepting project proposals for this program; they are due to NRCS before 5 p.m. Eastern Time on March 28, 2016. Information and forms for this funding opportunity are at grants.gov. Learn more about NRCS conservation programs online or visit a local USDA service center.