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Wetland Renaissance

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2007

Last revision: Nov. 30, 2010

Missouri had an estimated 4.84 million acres of wetlands during the 1780s, a time generally referred to as the “pre-settlement” period. Though this only represented 10 percent of the state at that time, less than 2 percent are in existence today.

Wetlands in Missouri were considered problematic wastelands and unproductive pieces of ground until the early 1900s. Approximately 2.5 million acres of bottomland forest in the Bootheel region of the state were cut or removed to accommodate competing land uses. Swamps, sloughs and other backwaters were drained, dredged and filled to build a more agriculturally productive state.

During the mid-1900s, wetlands became known as more than just wasteland. People discovered that wetlands offer recreational opportunities, critical wildlife habitat, improvements to water quality, temporary storage of floodwaters, and resources for education and research. Attitudes were beginning to change.

Wetlands are now recognized as important in our daily lives. In fact, 2006 was the first year in two decades that the United States had a net gain of wetlands instead of a loss, according to the most recent National Resource Inventory conducted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Since the early 1990s, private landowners in Missouri have restored almost 130,000 acres of wetlands. A collection of restoration programs known as the Missouri Agricultural Wetland Initiatives (MAWI) has supported their volunteer efforts through financial and technical assistance.

Thanks to a partnership between federal, state and non-governmental agencies, MAWI is able to assist landowners in meeting their own resource needs while increasing habitat for many species of resident and migratory wetland wildlife. MAWI partners include the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Missouri Department of Conservation, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy and the American Land Conservancy.

The time is right for landowners to get professional assistance in restoring, enhancing or creating wetlands on their property. Here are some options to consider.

MAWI Programs

The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP): Administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), WRP is often referred to as the “premiere wetland restoration program” in the country. This voluntary program consists of two main efforts, one with a conservation easement and one without.

Conservation easements are either perpetual or for a 30-year period. There is a one-time easement payment based on a geographic cap, an appraised value, or a landowner bid, whichever is the lowest. Cost share for the restoration is up to 100 percent for permanent easements and up to 75 percent for 30-year easements.

The non-easement portion of the program is an agreement for at least 10 years with cost share at 75 percent. Four Wetland Emphasis Teams (WETs) deliver this program statewide. These teams are a combination of Natural Resources Conservation Service and Department of Conservation personnel who are experts in restoring wetlands in the agricultural landscape. Landowners should contact their local county NRCS office, or visit online for assistance.

The Continuous Conservation Reserve Program (CCRP): This voluntary program is administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), another agency under the USDA. CCRP assists private landowners with financial incentives to convert sensitive cropland acres to permanent cover and/or establish buffers. The NRCS provides conservation planning and practice implementation in conjunction with the landowner. Two practices offered through the program address wetland restoration or creation/enhancement: Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife (CP-9) and the Wetland Restoration (CP-23 and 23A) practices.

  • The CP-9 develops or restores shallow water areas that average 6 to 18 inches in depth during the majority of the year. These are restricted in size and may not exceed 10 acres, including a required vegetated buffer. This program is tied to a contract for 10 years, cost shares up to 50 percent on the establishment of the wetland and associated buffer and provides annual payments based on soil types and rental rates.
  • The CP-23 restores wetlands where wetlands once existed. The area must have a majority of wetland-type soils. Different practices are used for areas within and without the 100-year floodplain, the latter referred to as CP-23A. Vegetative buffers may be established as a component of this practice. Restoration of wetlands by filling field drainages, excavation, diking, removing/breaking tile drains or restoring woody or grassy vegetation are examples of these projects. There are no acreage limitations on the size of these projects, but there are acre limits for the state in total. This program is tied to a contract of 10 to 15 years in length, cost shares up to 50 percent on the wetland restoration components, an additional 25 percent incentive to restore hydrology, and it provides annual payments based on soil types and rental rates.

Interested landowners should contact their local FSA office or visit online.

The Continuous Conservation Reserve Program CP-23 Enhancement: A cooperative effort between Ducks Unlimited (DU) and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) in which enrolled CP-23 practices are “enhanced” to allow seasonal flooding of adjoining crops. USDA has granted approval for landowners already approved to install the regular CP-23 practice to simultaneously “overbuild” the practice to accommodate additional flooding capability. This program has two pilot focus areas:

  • Middle Missouri (Ray, Carroll, Chariton, Saline and Lafayette counties)
  • Confluence Area (Pike, Lincoln, St. Charles and St. Louis counties)

The enhancement will usually require more earthwork and possibly a larger water control structure. DU and MDC will provide 100 percent of the additional enhancement costs, not to exceed $10,000. An agreement is signed with DU in addition to the FSA contract for the CP-23 practice. The length of this agreement is the same as the length of the CP-23 contract. MDC wetland services biologists deliver this program. Landowners should contact the Wetland Emphasis Teams located in the Fulton and Chillicothe NRCS field offices.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFW): This voluntary program, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), is designed to help landowners realize their goals of restoring fish and wildlife habitat on their lands, both through technical and financial assistance. Through partnership efforts between the MDC and by teaming up with other federal, state and local agencies and conservation organizations, the USFWS works with landowners to develop wetland projects for waterfowl and other wetland-dependant birds, plants and resident wildlife species. Funds are leveraged to cover costs through contributed funds, materials, equipment, labor and time to assist in the restoration project. At least a 10-year agreement is signed between the landowner and the USFWS. Landowners should contact the USFWS Missouri Private Lands office in Columbia or visit online for more information.

The Missouri Department of Conservation Wetland Development (MDC-800): A voluntary cost-share program to assist Missouri landowners restore, create or enhance wetlands on property they own. MDC wetland services biologists and private land conservationists provide the technical assistance, designs, water management plans and estimated cost lists for project completion. The practice is conducted under a 10-year agreement with cost share at 75 percent. Interested landowners should contact their local MDC office or visit online for additional information.

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