The USDA has announced that five projects were approved to restore, enhance and protect high-priority wetlands and improve wildlife habitat through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program (WREP). WREP, a voluntary conservation program, is carried out through partnership agreements with state and local governments, non-governmental organizations and Indian tribes.

"Wetlands preservation is a priority at USDA not only because of the role wetlands play in supporting diverse wildlife and plants, but also their importance in sustaining healthy ecosystems," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says. "The wetland restoration and enhancements made possible through WREP will significantly increase wildlife habitat and improve water quality."

Beginning this fiscal year, USDA will provide more than $9.8 million in financial assistance for four multi-year projects to protect and restore 2,440 acres of wetlands and associated habitats in four states. At the sponsoring entity's request, the fifth approved project is expected to begin in fiscal year 2011 when funding is available. Approved projects will focus outreach and assistance efforts at various scales – from individual projects to multi-state watersheds. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which administers WREP, used a competitive process to evaluate the partner proposals.

The following projects in five states were approved for financial assistance in fiscal year 2010 for a total of $9,847,500 covering 2,440 acres of wetlands:

Indiana/Illinois
Wabash River Floodplain Corridor Project
Sponsoring Entity: The Nature Conservancy
Fiscal Year 2010 Financial Assistance: $3,255,000
Acreage: 1,000

Iowa
Wetland Restoration and Enhancement for Water Quality and Habitat Benefits – Des Moines Lobe
Sponsoring Entity: Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship
Fiscal Year 2010 Financial Assistance: $3,842,500
Acreage: 600

Des Moines Metro Forest Initiative
Sponsoring Entity: Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation
Fiscal Year 2010 Financial Assistance: $2,000,000
Acreage: 600

Minnesota
Sand Creek &Prior Lake/Spring Lake Watershed
Sponsoring Entity: Scott Soil and Water Conservation District
Project to begin in FY 2011

Nebraska
Rainwater Basin Water Complex
Sponsoring Entity: Pheasants Forever
Fiscal Year 2010 Financial Assistance: $750,000
Acreage: 240

NRCS Chief Dave White announced the projects on behalf of Secretary Vilsack at an America's Great Outdoors Initiative listening session in Nebraska. White and other Obama administration officials toured the Rainwater Basin Water Complex, one of the projects announced on July 12.

WREP, a component of the Wetlands Reserve Program, leverages the resources of eligible partners to provide financial and technical assistance to eligible landowners to protect, restore and enhance wetlands and improve wildlife habitat through multi-year projects lasting up to five years. WREP links wetlands and non-wetlands by creating wildlife habitat and floodplain corridors.

Landowners have three options to enter eligible land into this program: permanent easement, 30-year easement or a 30-year contract with Indian tribes. Landowners retain ownership and access to the land and may be able to generate income from NRCS-approved grazing or haying or recreation opportunities. With the announcement of the selected proposals today, individual farmers and ranchers located in approved project areas may now apply for assistance through their local NRCS offices or by contacting the sponsoring entity.

Additional information about WREP is available at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp.