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The USDA's Natural Conservation Service has worked with private landowners and a host of other partners in restoring and conserving more than 2.6 million acres of U.S. wetlands since the Wetlands Reserve Program was created 20 years ago ...


Clean Tech Of Another Sort: More Than 2.6 Million Acres Restored Via USDA Wetlands Reserve Program

The USDA’s Natural Conservation Service has worked with private landowners and a host of other partners in restoring and conserving more than 2.6 million acres of U.S. wetlands since the Wetlands Reserve Program was created 20 years ago …

The sub-atomic properties of silicon and other semi-conductors; the workings of rare earth metal and alternative super magnets and energy storage systems; a diverse variety of new, nano engineered materials; genetically engineered algae and microorganisms — the clean tech world abounds in new scientific knowledge and applications.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) this week announced a milestone in what can be considered clean tech of another sort. It’s a type of “clean tech” that produces all its own energy, recycles all of its own waste, and recycles externally input waste. And, in the process, it produces numerous and varied products and services. It comes as a package, one that’s evolved over the course of the Earth’s history. I’m talking about nature’s wetlands.

Created two decades ago, the USDA’s Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) “has restored more than 2.6 million acres of wetlands habitat across the U.S., creating prime wildlife habitat and helping the environment by holding and clean water,” the USDA announced in a Dec. 11 press release.

Restoring U.S. Wetlands

A voluntary program administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), WRP entails NRCS working with “landowners to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on private and tribal lands, a mission that helps rural and urban communities throughout the country by reducing flood damage, contributing to groundwater recharge and carbon sequestration, and providing recreational opportunities.”

The federal WRP initiative to support private landowners is well directed. 75% of US wetlands are on private lands, the USDA points out. The majority of WRP lands are located in five states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, and California.

Through WRP, private landowners receive technical and financial assistance to help them restore and protect these diverse, productive, and essential ecosystems. To opt in to the program, landowners can choose to set aside property permanently or on 30-year easements while retaining ownership once the easement is in place.

Along with providing critical habitat for a diversity of flora and fauna that provide essential ecosystem services such as water and waste filtration, soil nutrient cycling, pollination, and carbon sequestration; wetlands “slow and store water, lowering the risk of flooding for nearby communities during hurricances and other severe weather events.”

“Wetlands are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world,” USDA notes. “Rare and endangered wildlife, such as the Louisiana black bear, whooping crane, wood stork, bog turtle and other species, are thriving on WRP easement lands.”

US wetlands are threatened nonetheless. “Our nation has lost more than half of its historical 220 million acres of wetlands in the continental U.S.,” NRCS Acting Chief Jason Weller pointed out. “I am encouraged by farmers, ranchers and other private landowners who are dedicated to reversing this trend through the restoration and care of the wetlands on their property.”

WRP: A Social-Ecological Success Story

More than 11,000 landowners have participated in WRP since its inception 20 years ago. WRP “is best suited for frequently flooded agricultural lands, where restoration will maximize habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife, and improve water quality,” USDA explains.

Landowners qualifying for WRP are eligible for assistance in restoring wetlands “on the saturated and flooded portions of their property that are difficult to farm, focusing their agricultural effort on more productive soils.”

“The Wetlands Reserve Program is a great conservation tool, providing landowners a way to protect and restore wetland areas while making improvements to their properties—it is a win-win for the environment, the landowner and the community,” Weller stated.

Weller attributed the success of WRP to“strong partnerships and effective, science-based technical assistance,” as well as interest on the part of landowners.

WRP, he noted, draws on the expertise of NRCS technical specialists, who “work cooperatively with landowners, federal and state wildlife agencies, researchers and universities, conservation districts and non-governmental organizations to develop and implement effective hydrologic and vegetative restoration and management techniques.”

Image Credit: USDA Wetlands Reserve Program

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I've been reporting and writing on a wide range of topics at the nexus of economics, technology, ecology/environment and society for some five years now. Whether in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Americas, Africa or the Middle East, issues related to these broad topical areas pose tremendous opportunities, as well as challenges, and define the quality of our lives, as well as our relationship to the natural environment.


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