A new program aimed at protecting and preserving Tennessee’s wetlands could end up being profitable for qualifying local farmers and landowners with wetlands on their property.
According to a news release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Wetland Reserve Program is an easement program for farmers and landowners to receive financial incentives to help to restore area wetlands in exchange for retiring the land from agricultural use.
“Natural Resources Conservation Service offers this program ... to restore wetlands that’s either been mitigated or been cropped in the last few years. The whole program is designed to protect the wetlands that we’ve lost in the past,” said Greg Quillen, district conservationist with NRCS.
“It’s very beneficial to a lot of landowners around here because most of the wetlands that we have in Washington County ... they’re very small. Usually the landowners are not doing a whole lot with them anyway. This just gives us an opportunity to protect those areas, to restore them back and provide ... the habitat and the aquatics that were there prior to us ... removing them.”
Quillen said eligibility requirements for the program include that the landowner must have owned the property for at least seven years and that the soil on the property must test positive that it’s hydric.
“Just because you’ve got a wet area in your yard or in your farm doesn’t necessarily classify it as a wetlands,” he said. “We have a soil scientist that comes out and they actually do an investigation of the soils to make sure it is hydric and it will be able to be restored. We take the whole farm into consideration. We look at the delineation of the hydric soils and then we calculate those acres and we’ll be able to provide that landowner with what that easement rate would be for that property.”
Examples of eligible lands listed in a NRCS news release include wetlands farmed under natural conditions, farmed wetlands, prior converted cropland, farmed wetland pasture and former or degraded wetlands.
According to a NRCS news release, there are two easement options — permanent and 30-year easements.
According to the release, with the permanent easement option “payments for this option equal the lowest of three amounts: the agricultural value of the land, an established payment cap or an amount offered by the landowner. In addition to paying for the easement, (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) pays 100 percent of the costs of restoring the wetland.”
Under a 30-year easement option, payments would be 75 percent of what would be paid for a permanent easement and the USDA would also pay up to 75 percent of restoration costs.
According to the release, for both easement options the USDA pays all costs associated with recording the easement in the local land records office, which would include recording fees, charges for abstracts, survey and appraisal fees and title insurance.
He said so far they’ve had around four applications total in Washington and Sullivan counties, two filed and two being processed, which he noted as decent participation for the area.
“It’s an environmental benefit, plus an economic benefit to most of these landowners,” Quillen said.
Applications for the program can be picked up at the Natural Resources Conservation Service office, 1105 E. Jackson Blvd., or call 753-2192, Ext. 3.