The Wetland Reserve Easement is a voluntary federal program that can help landowners protect, restore, and enhance wetlands and improve wildlife habitat, often on marginal and frequently flooded cropland. It is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
Type of lands that qualify: Wetlands, cropland
Type of program: Conservation easement
Monetary benefit: Direct payment
How It Works
A landowner with qualifying land applies for an easement at a NRCS local office, also called a District Office. Eligible lands include farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully and cost-effectively restored. Through the program, the land can be placed under either a perpetual or 30-year conservation easement that ensures the land is not subdivided or developed and remains wetlands and wildlife habitat for the duration of the easement.
Annually, the NRCS ranks all WRE applications, and the best applications are chosen for approval. The NRCS then checks the title and conducts a land survey to determine the exact number of acres to be placed under easement.
The NRCS then enters into a purchase agreement with the eligible private landowner, including the right for the NRCS to develop and implement a Wetland Reserve Plan of Operations (WRPO). This plan will detail practices to help restore, protect, and enhance the wetland.
The NRCS will pay a percentage of the easement value depending on the enrollment option. The NRCS pays 100% of the easement and restoration costs for perpetual easements. For 30-year easements, the NRCS pays 75% of the easement and restoration costs. Qualifying landowners receive a one-time, per-acre payment and must agree to cease farming and adhere to the easement terms.
Payments are based on a Geographic Area Rate Cap or an appraisal. The WRE payment rates for each state in the Lower Mississippi River Valley can be found here:
- Arkansas WRE Payment Rates
- Kentucky WRE Payment Rates
- Louisiana WRE Payment Rates
- Mississippi WRE Payment Rates
- Missouri WRE Payment Rates
- Tennessee WRE Payment Rates
How To Apply
Landowners should contact a local NRCS office to begin the application process, which can take up to two years to complete. Applications are accepted throughout the year.
Wetland Reserve Easements in the Batture
Wildlife Mississippi, the Mississippi River Trust (MRT), and the Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee (LMRCC) are working with the NRCS to protect and restore bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands in the Lower Mississippi River batture, or the active floodplain between the river and levees or bluffs. The project reduces sediment and nutrients entering waterways and the Gulf of Mexico; decreases flood damage and the need for emergency payments: and improves wildlife and fish habitat in the six states of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. As the primary private partner, MRT:
- conducts outreach to eligible landowners
- helps landowners apply for easements in the batture
- restores the land to bottomland hardwoods
Information about the WRE batture program in each state in the Lower Mississippi River Valley can be found here:
Wetland Reserve Easement Example
Landowners participating in the WRE will be paid approximately 100% of the easement value (based on a Geographic Area Rate Cap or an appraisal) and 100% of the restoration costs for a perpetual easement. For a 30-year easement, those rates are 75%.
Expenses that NRCS will pay for include:
- closing cost of the easement
- a percentage of the easement value
- restoration costs
The landowner has 100 acres (90 acres of cropland and 10 acres of forest land) they are interested in placing under an WRE in the Mississippi Delta. The Geographic Area Rate Cap for cropland in the Mississippi Delta is $3,200 per acre, and the rate for forest land is $1,700 per acre.
Example Calculation of Easement Value
90 acres X $3,200 per acre = $288,000
10 acres X $1,700 per acre = $17,000
Total easement value ($288,000 + $17,000) = $305,000
How are WRE payments Taxed?
WRE payments are considered capital gains and are taxed at the capital gains rate.