The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) continues to accept applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Wetland Reserve Easement Program (ACEP-WRE). The program provides financial and technical assistance to Ohio landowners wishing to protect and restore critical wetlands by enrolling property into conservation easements. Applications for ACEP-WRE are taken on a continuous basis, however, landowners are encouraged to contact their local NRCS Service Center prior to the Feb. 18, 2022 deadline for fiscal year 2022 funding.
Many of Ohio’s landowners can take advantage of this program, as eligible lands include farmed or converted wetlands that can successfully be restored; croplands or grasslands subject to flooding; and previously restored wetlands and riparian areas that connect protected wetland areas.
“Restored wetlands help to improve water quality downstream, enhance wildlife habitat, reduce impacts from flooding and provide recreational opportunities,” said Barbara Baker, Assistant State Conservationist for Natural Resources in Ohio. “The Wetland Reserve Easement program offers landowners a great opportunity to turn unproductive agricultural land into a vibrant ecosystem with many ecological and economic benefits.”
In the 1700s, wetlands covered 5 million acres of Ohio, primarily in the northwestern part of the state, referred to as the “Great Black Swamp.” Competing land uses resulted in a 90% loss of wetlands by the late 1900s. Since 2005, NRCS has assisted landowners in restoring more than 28,000 acres of wetlands in Ohio.
Ron Weisenburger, a private landowner in Putnam County, worked with NRCS to convert some of his old farmland into a wetland, prairie and wooded area using the ACEP-WRE program.
“Enrolling my land into the program made economic and environmental sense to me,” Weisenburger said. “The fields weren’t producing enough crops and I wanted to get an actual investment from the land. My family loves to hunt, and by restoring wetlands, I’m creating wildlife corridors and a place for my family to enjoy.”
ACEP-WRE enrollment options include permanent easements, 30-year easements, and 30-year contracts. NRCS staff are available to help landowners plan and implement individual projects and the agency will pay a percent of the purchase value as well as restoration costs for each easement option.