Wetlands Reserve Program

The continental United States has already lost more than 50 percent of its wetlands and continues to lose these habitats at an alarming rate. One of the most successful federal conservation programs is the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which provides a voluntary, non-regulatory, incentive-based way for private landowners, farmers, and ranchers to protect and restore wetlands on their property. WRP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and is the federal government's largest wetlands restoration program. WRP is designed to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Native American tribes to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands that have been degraded or converted for agricultural use. WRP has also provided an avenue for farmers and ranchers to remove marginal croplands from production. WRP also provides societal benefits such as improved water quality and quantity, reduced flood damage, and enhanced wildlife habitat. Producer demand for WRP currently outstrips available funding by at least a 3:1 margin. In fact, in November 2010, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the nation's farmers, ranchers, and Native American tribes enrolled more than 272,000 acres in the WRP during fiscal year 2010, which is the highest enrollment since the program began in 1990. There are currently more than 2.3 million acres enrolled in WRP nationwide; however, at the current rate of enrollment, WRP will exhaust its funding unless it's reauthorized and the acreage cap is increased in 2012.