WRP has been especially popular in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley where almost 600,000 acres have been enrolled, providing resources to help sustain millions of waterfowl through winter. Applications for WRP in the Mississippi Valley and other important waterfowl areas have waned in recent years because of changes in the appraisal process used to value easement offers. Wisconsin, for example, saw enrollments in WRP drop from 3,000 acres in 2005 to only 30 in 2006. In Mississippi, the drop was even more dramatic, going from 6,400 acres to zero between 2005 and 2006. Unfortunately, problems with the appraisal process were not completely eliminated in the new bill.
The loss of WRP acres and new limitations and eligibility requirements will stall progress toward achieving a net gain in wetland acres. This will have impacts not only on waterfowl but also on the important functions wetlands provide. Many of the lands flooded in the Mississippi Valley this spring could have been enrolled in WRP. This would have reduced property damage and federal disaster costs.
In addition to grassland restoration practices, there are also several wetland restoration options with CRP. Historically, some of these practices have restored substantial acres of wetlands. The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program has been especially important in restoring riparian areas along tributaries of Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. As water quality improves in these tributaries, aquatic vegetation, which is high quality food for waterfowl, returns along with dozens of species of fish and wildlife. While these wetland restoration options continue in the new Farm Bill, sign-ups are plagued by low rental rates compared to profits from cultivation, just as with grassland restoration practices.
A disincentive established in the 1985 Farm Bill that withholds certain farm program benefits from producers who drain wetlands was continued in the new Farm Bill. Called Swampbuster, this provision should continue to discourage efforts to convert wetlands into flood-prone, marginal cropland.