Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, St. Cloud, MN 56301
The Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 authorized the Wetlands Reserve Program. The purpose of this program is to restore and protect the functions and values of wetlands which had been previously converted to cropland. One million acres (404,695 ha) of wetlands are authorized to be enrolled within the Wetlands Reserve Program through 1995.
In 1992, nine states were selected to implement the Wetlands Reserve Program as a pilot project: CA, IA, LA, MN, MS, MO, NY, NC, and WI; $46 million was allocated by Congress to enroll up to a maximum of 50,000 acres (20,235 ha).
The 1992 Wetlands Reserve Program generated considerable interest. Nationally, 2,730 landowners expressed interest in enrolling 466,000 acres (188,588 ha), to be placed under permanent easement through a bid process. Bids could be accepted or rejected using the following criteria, in the order listed: (1) landowner and property eligibility, (2) whether or not bids exceeded fair market value for the lands offered, as determined by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and (3) a review of cost to environmental benefit ratios.
The results of the program were mixed, both encouraging and frustrating. Across the nine states, bids were accepted for 49,888 acres (20,189 ha) on 265 farms; in Minnesota only 11 bids for 706 acres (286 ha) were accepted. In Minnesota, the primary reason bids were rejected was because they exceeded fair market value (97 of 105 bids). As such, the benefits of many high quality projects could not be considered.
The results of the 1992 Wetlands Reserve Program pilot project pose some interesting opportunities and challenges for the future. Opportunities exist to restore and protect numerous wetlands on private lands; interest in the program exceeded our expectations. On the other hand, the 1992 program was implemented under extremely demanding timetables. We need to find ways to better fit the program into existing and seasonal workloads, both for the agencies and landowners. We also need to find ways to provide the information landowners need to make informed enrollment decisions, while reducing the amount of agency staff time required to provide that information. We must also find ways to reduce bid rejections that exceed fair market values. Finally, we need to find ways to make this program more attractive to a wider audience.