The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service is making $20 million available to Arkansas landowners to restore wetlands. The program to limit future development is voluntary and funded by the 2014 Farm Bill.
Randy Childress, the Assistant State Conservationist for Easements and Watersheds at NRCS, says the process of restoring marginal farmland to wetlands could take 50 to 100 years. He’s confident restoration efforts will work.
“Our primary objective is creating wildlife habitat primarily for migratory birds. Not only water fowl, but migratory neo-tropical zone birds. It’s about restoring bottomland hardwood forests and maximizing habitat,” says Childress.
He thinks farmers will buy into the program as well. Childress expects 10 to 15,000 acres will be acquired over the course of a year. A precursor to the program launched in the late 1990s.
“It essentially protects and restores cropland or farmland that is marginal in condition. Maybe you can only harvest crops off of it two out of five years, or three out of five years, because of flooding conditions. Or maybe it’s just not productive or doesn’t fit in your operations well,” he says.
Two areas in Arkansas are eligible under the USDA’s Wetland Reserve Easements provision of the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The Cache River Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program covers parts of Monroe, Prairie, and Woodruff counties, as well as the White River. The Batture Lands Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program covers the Lower Mississippi including parts of Chicot, Crittenden, Desha, Lee, Mississippi, and Phillips counties.