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USDA announces wetland mitigation banks

USDA announces wetland mitigation banks
Farm bill provides $9 million to leverage further public and private resources to create new mitigation opportunities for farmers and ranchers.

As part of the 2014 farm bill, farmers have a new tool to help offset the conversion of wetlands by either mitigating on or off site.

Through its  Wetland Mitigation Banking Program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide $9 million to help states, local governments or other qualified partners develop wetland mitigation banks that restore, create or enhance wetland ecosystems, broadening the conservation options available to farmers and ranchers so they can maintain eligibility for other U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.

Pictured is a wetland in Montana. USDA has launched a new process for wetland mitigation banking which is the restoration, creation or enhancement of wetlands for the purpose of compensating for unavoidable impacts to wetlands at another location. Source: NRCS

“Wetland mitigation banks will give farmers and ranchers more conservation options so they can find the best solution for their land and circumstances, and produce even more results," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Wetland mitigation banking is a market-based approach that involves restoring, creating or enhancing wetlands in one place to compensate for unavoidable impacts to wetlands at another location. Wetland mitigation banking is commonly used to compensate for wetland impacts from development but can also be used to offset impacts from agriculture.

A small number of banks have been developed in the U.S. specifically to assist agriculture, and the mitigation banks established under this program will be used to help agricultural producers who need to mitigate wetland losses to maintain eligibility for USDA programs.

NRCS is seeking applications from eligible third parties to develop wetland mitigation banks or modify existing banks to better serve agricultural producers. These third parties include federally recognized Indian tribes, state and local units of government, for-profit entities and non-governmental organizations.

The maximum award provided through this announcement is $1 million, which may be used to cover the administrative and technical costs associated with developing a wetland mitigation bank or banking program. Funding may not be used to purchase an easement or any other interest in land.

Partners will develop, operate and manage the wetland mitigation banks with technical oversight from NRCS and will market mitigation credits to farmers and ranchers. Credits must be made available to producers within two years after the agreement is signed.

NRCS is prioritizing funding to locations that have a significant known wetland compliance workload, including: the Prairie Pothole Region, California Vernal Pool Region, Nebraska Rainwater Basin Region and other areas with a significant number of wetlands compliance requests. Priority will also be given to applications based on the speed with which mitigation credits can be made available to agriculture producers.

In a media call for the announcement, Vilsack said the goal is to have the credits available in the next two years, and this will depend on the amount of interest and number of applicants who seek the available $9 million.

Vilsack also said a webinar will be held at 3 p.m. (EST) on Feb. 10 to further discuss the program.

USDA is now accepting project proposals for this program. Proposals are due to NRCS before 5 p.m. (Eastern) on March 28. The announcement and associated forms for this funding opportunity can be found at www.grants.gov.

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