USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering $9 million to states, local governments or other qualified partners to develop wetland mitigation banking programs geared to agricultural producers.
The maximum award through this program is $1 million and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the agency decided that leveraging the money with state and other partners would go further than USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service establishing a bank.
“This is a great opportunity for us to provide assistance to farmers,” Vilsack said. “The reality is these banks will be set up in such a way that farmers will benefit.”
Wetland mitigation banking involves restoring, creating or enhancing wetlands in one place to compensate for losses in another.
Several states, including Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota, have established wetland mitigation banks geared specifically to agricultural producers.
Wetland mitigation banking is commonly used to compensate for wetland impacts from development, but can also be used to offset impacts from agriculture. The challenge for producers is they often can’t compete against developers who can pay more for offset credits, Vilsack said in a Jan. 28 conference call announcing the program.
With wetland mitigation banks geared specifically for agriculture, farmers can impact a wetland and purchase offset credits to remain eligible for USDA programs.
"Over the past seven years, USDA has worked with private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation practices, and we are seeing significant reductions in nutrient runoff and greenhouse gas emissions” Vilsack said. “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."
The USDA NRCS wetland mitigation bank program will be available to states, local governments and other qualified partners to start or expand a wetland mitigation bank, Vilsack said. The effort may be multi-state, with Vilsack saying USDA wants to provide as much flexibility as possible.
Partners will develop, operate and manage the wetland banks with technical oversight from NRCS and will market mitigation credits to farmers and ranchers.
Credits from this program must be available within two years after an agreement is signed.
Priority for this program goes to the Prairie Pothole Region, California Vernal Pool Region, Nebraska Rainwater Basin Region and other areas with a significant number of wetland compliance requests. Also, applications will be prioritized based upon the speed with which they can make mitigation credits available.
Proposals are due to NRCS by 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time March 28.