The Wetland Reserve Program (WRP)
The Wetland Reserve Program is a voluntary program designed to restore and protect wetlands on private property. It is an opportunity for landowners to receive financial incentives to enhance wetlands in exchange for retiring marginal agricultural land.
Congress authorized the Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) under the Food Security Act of 1985, which was amended by the 1990, 1996 and 2002 Farm Bills. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the program in consultation with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and other Federal Agencies. See the USDA NRCS WRP page for current updates.
How the Program Works
Landowners who wish to participate in the WRP may sell a conservation easement or enter into a cost-share restoration agreement with USDA to restore and protect wetlands on their property. Ultimately, the landowner voluntarily limits future use of the land, yet retains private ownership, while working with the NRCS in developing a plan for restoration and maintenance of the wetland.
The program offers landowners three options:
- permanent easements
- 30-year easements
- restoration cost-share agreements of a minimum 10-year duration
1. Permanent Easement
This is essentially a conservation easement in perpetuity. Easement payment will be the agricultural value of the land, an established payment cap, or an amount offered by the landowner. In addition to payment for the easement, the USDA will pay 100% of the costs for restoring the wetland. See our Conservation Easements page for more information.
2. 30-Year Easement
This is a conservation easement lasting 30 years. Easement payments are 75% of what would be paid for a permanent easement. The USDA also pays for 75% of the costs for wetland restoration.
3. Restoration Cost-Share Agreement
This is an agreement (generally for a minimum of 10 years) to re-establish degraded or lost wetland habitat. USDA pays 75% of the costs for wetland restoration. This is not an easement, therefore, the landowner is not reimbursed for providing the restoration site.
Other agencies and private conservation organizations may provide additional assistance in easement payment and wetland restoration costs so the landowner's share of the costs is reduced.
To offer a conservation easement, you must have owned the land for at least one year prior to enrolling the land in the program unless the land was inherited or you can prove that the land was not obtained for the purpose of enrolling it in the program. To participate in a restoration cost-share agreement, you must show evidence of ownership.
To be eligible for the WRP, your land must be restorable and suitable for wildlife benefits. This condition includes:
- wetlands farmed under natural conditions
- farmed wetlands
- prior converted cropland
- farmed wetland pasture
- farmland that has become a wetland as a result of flooding
- rangeland, pasture, or timberland where the hydrology has been significantly degraded and can be restored
- riparian areas which are connected to protected wetlands
- lands adjacent to protected wetlands that contribute significantly to wetland functions and values
- previously restored wetlands - Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land is eligible if WRP requirements are met
Ineligible land includes:
- wetlands converted after December 23, 1985
- lands with timber established under a CRP contract
- Federal lands
- lands where conditions make restoration impossible
Uses of WRP Land and Contacts
Once you have your land under WRP contract, you will continue to control access to the land and you may lease the land for hunting, fishing, and other undeveloped recreational activities. You may, at any time, request that additional activities be evaluated to determine if they are compatible uses for the site (e.g., cut hay, graze livestock, or harvest forest products). Compatible uses are allowed if they are fully consistent with the protection and enhancement of the wetland.