- Associated Press - Sunday, January 3, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A voluntary federal wetlands program is helping Arkansas landowners restore marginal cropland to its original state and protect it from development.

Wetland reserve easements provide habitat for fish and wildlife, improve water quality by filtering sediments and chemicals, reduce impacts from flooding, recharge groundwater and provide opportunities for educational, scientific and outdoor recreational activities, according to Mike Sullivan, Arkansas state conservationist.

In the federal budget year that ended Sept. 30, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service added seven easements totaling about 6,000 acres in Arkansas, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday (https://bit.ly/1TxUv5X ). Sullivan said the agency spent $18 million to acquire and restore those lands.

Randy Childress, assistant state conservationist, said about $12.5 million is available now for acquisition of new easements in Arkansas during the current budget year.

Landowners interested in the program must apply to the Natural Resources Conservation Service by Jan. 29, the agency said in a news release. Both permanent and 30-year easements are available. American Indian tribes, state and local governments and nongovernmental organizations that have farmland or grassland protection initiatives are eligible to participate in the program in addition to private landowners, the agency said.

Childress said lands added to the program remain the property of the owners, who continue to pay taxes on the property and retain the right to sell, trade or give away the acreage. Owners also continue to control access as well as the mineral rights and the ability to issue hunting leases.

There are restrictions, of course. Only wetlands that were converted to cropland are eligible for the program, Childress said.

“We rough it back up to what it was prior to it being developed,” he said.

That work can include building levees and shallow water retention structures as well as planting native trees and grasses, he said. Restoration efforts can take a year or more, Childress said, and after that the agency monitors the land to ensure it’s not being farmed or used for other unauthorized purposes.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com

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