The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is offering technical and financial assistance to agricultural landowners to restore, protect and enhance wetlands on private property such as playas and riparian areas.

WRP offers an opportunity for landowners to enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring marginal agricultural land. The program also serves to provide fish and wildlife habitat, improved water quality, protection of biological diversity, and recreational opportunities.

“NRCS considers this an opportunity to restore wetland ecological functions,” said Manuel DeLeon, NRCS wildlife biologist in Lubbock. “Wetlands are typically not associated to this area of Texas; landowners may be uncertain about their land eligibility. To clarify landowner concerns, NRCS will be conducting onsite evaluations to make official determinations for land eligibility.”

Playas were selected as one of the priority areas of Texas for WRP enrollments. The program objectives include:

• purchase conservation easements from, or enter into cost-share agreements with, willing owners of eligible land. Enrollment options:

• easement is either permanent or 30 years, and

• restoration cost-share agreement is 10 years.

• help eligible landowners, protect, restore, and enhance the original hydrology, native vegetation, and natural topography of eligible lands,

• restore and protect the functions and values of wetlands in the agricultural landscape,

• help achieve the national goal of no net loss of wetlands,

• improve the general environment of the country.

As a result of the 2008 Farm Bill, NRCS is offering the lowest of the following for a permanent conservation easement:

• The fair market value of the land using the Uniform Standard for Professional Appraisal Practice, or basedon an area-wide analysis or survey; or

• The geographic area rate cap determined by State Conservationist in consultation with State Technical Committee. The Playa region rate cap is set at $500/acre, and the Rolling Plains area rate cap is set at $800/acre.

• The landowner’s offer.

The emphasis of WRP is to protect, restore, and enhance the functions and values of wetland ecosystems to attain:

• habitat for migratory birds and wetland dependent wildlife, including threatened and endangered species,

• protection and improvement of water quality,

• attenuation of water flows due to flooding,

• recharge of ground water,

• protection and enhancement of open space and aesthetic quality, and

• protection of native flora and fauna contributing to the Nation's natural heritage.

For more information about the Texas WRP program, contact the USDA-NRCS office in your county, listed under USDA in the Yellow Pages, or access the Texas WRP web page (www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp). Applications for NRCS conservation programs are accepted year round.