Agriculture Under Secretary of Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey has announced landowners have enrolled more than 2 million acres in U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wetlands Reserve Program, a significant contribution toward increasing the Nation's wetlands.

"We have gained wetland acreage, thanks to the stewardship ethic of the Nation's farmers and ranchers," Rey said. "Because of this achievement, USDA was able to help President Bush exceed his goal of improving, restoring, and protecting at least 3 million acres of wetlands in less than five years."

Rey announced the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) milestone at the farm of Charles and Patricia McCain in Albion, Pa., about 25 miles southwest of Erie. The McCains recently enrolled 342 acres, or slightly more than half their farm, into the program. Pennsylvania landowners have enrolled 2,194 acres in WRP since the program was first introduced in 1996.

There is WRP enrolled acreage in each state. New WRP enrollments in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Vermont contributed to this conservation achievement of having more than 2 million acres enrolled in WRP. Enrolled acres for each state are available at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov.

WRP, administered by USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, was reauthorized in the 2008 farm bill. It provides technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to address wetland, wildlife habitat, soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on private agricultural land. The program provides financial incentives to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property. This voluntary program strives to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values and optimum wildlife habitat on every enrolled acre.

The enrollment options for landowners are permanent easements, 30-year easements, and a restoration cost-share agreement, as well as 30-year contracts on acreage owned by Indian Tribes.

Wetlands are biologically diverse and dynamic ecosystems that support diverse populations of wildlife, plants, and fish. They supply life-sustaining habitat for hundreds of species, including many of the Nation's endangered and threatened species. They provide a protective buffer for our towns and cities against floods and storm surges by absorbing excess water. They also buffer coastal areas from erosion. Often called "nature's sponges," wetlands help protect water quality by filtering out pollutants and offer aesthetic and recreational opportunities.

"The presence of wetlands in the Midwest and South protected private agricultural land in states ravaged by recent flooding from even further damage," Rey said.

Additional information on WRP and other conservation programs is available at www.nrcs.usda.gov/.