Around 70 people came to the Rockford Sportsman’s Club on Monday, March 28 to hear about the programs available to assist property owners with wetland restoration on their land. The Rogue River Watershed Council and Trout Unlimited Inc., in partnership with Timberland Resource Conservation & Development, the Kent Conservation District, the Izaak Walton League, and the Department of Environmental Quality hosted this free informational workshop.
Speakers included: Rob Zbiciak, Wetland Restoration and Watersheds Coordinator for the Department of Environmental Quality; Becky Otto, Wetland Reserve Program Coordinator for the Natural Resources Conservation Service; and Gib King, a fish and wildlife biologist for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Zbiciak started the workshop by talking about the importance of wetlands in our landscape and wetland loss in the state of Michigan. Over half of Michigan’s wetlands have been drained and converted for agricultural use or other types of development. Wetlands serve a very important role in the landscape by improving water quality, flood storage and groundwater recharge. The loss of wetlands has increased the frequency and severity of flood events. An important function of wetlands is that they reduce sediment and nutrients in surface water before it enters our streams, lakes and rivers. Restoring wetlands is one of the best conservation practices available for improving water quality and quantity.
Otto and King spoke for the second half of the meeting about the two programs available for wetland restoration. The first was the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which restores and protects wetlands converted to agricultural use. By enrolling in WRP, landowners with land that was formerly wetlands can convert these lands back to their original state. WRP provides financial assistance to restore and protect wetlands, and to enhance degraded wetlands. For Kent County, landowners can receive up to $3,689 per acre in this program. The landowner can enter into either a 30-year easement or permanent easement that will insure the land is maintained as wetland habitat. In order to enroll land in WRP, the land must be owned privately or by a tribe and cannot have changed ownership within the previous seven years unless adequate assurances can be provided by the landowner.
The second program discussed at the workshop was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. This program focuses on working together in a voluntary proactive manner with private landowners to restore and enhance fish and wildlife habitat. Wetland restorations are generally focused where previous agricultural drainage provides an opportunity to restore hydrology, or put the “wet” back into altered wetlands. Projects often involve breaking or plugging a portion of a tile line, blocking a ditch, or building a low dike or embankment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds projects with cost-share assistance provided by Ducks Unlimited, other conservation organizations and government agencies, and landowners. Project construction is often completed with little or no cost to the landowner. Many landowners do contribute funds for permits or construction and in-kind services such as labor to prepare seedbeds and seed disturbed areas. Landowners are required to sign an agreement to preserve the project on their property for a minimum of 10 years. Landowners are also responsible for project maintenance.
If you would like more information about the WRP program, contact Matt Soehnel at (616) 942-4111 ext. 3. For more information about the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, contact King at (517) 351-2241.