The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Tennessee is now accepting applications from landowners for more than $2.1 million to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands on their property.

NRCS-TN manages the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), a voluntary wetlands restoration program providing technical and financial support to participating landowners.

Applications must be submitted no later than May 1, 2007, to be ranked.

“Tennessee’s wetlands are important because they support diverse populations of fish, wildlife and plants,” said State Conservationist Kevin Brown. “They also protect our water quality by filtering out pollutants and providing natural flood control by storing and absorbing excess water. It is vital to Tennessee’s environment to restore, protect, and preserve our wetlands.”

The Wetlands Reserve Program aims at restoring wetlands that have been impacted through agricultural activities while improving wildlife habitat for waterfowl.

Eighty-two percent of Tennessee’s wetlands are concentrated in just 20 counties (Dyer, Gibson, Haywood, Weakley, Shelby, Tipton, Obion, Lake, Carroll, Hardeman, Fayette, Henderson, Lauderdale, Madison, Henry, McNairy, Hardin, Crockett, Coffee, and Rutherford).

The program offers landowners two options: permanent easements and 30-year easements. After an agreement has been reached, the landowner continues to control access to the land — and may lease the land for hunting, fishing, and other undeveloped recreational activities.

At any time, a landowner may request additional activities be evaluated to determine if they are compatible uses for the site. This request may include such items as permission to cut hay, graze livestock, or harvest wood products. Compatible uses are allowed if they are consistent with the protection and enhancement of the wetland.

Wetlands restoration is accomplished by installing small shallow impoundments and ditch plugs, removing subsurface drainage, planting trees, and fencing livestock out of streams and creeks. Currently, over 18,000 acres are enrolled in WRP throughout Tennessee.

Information about WRP is available at local NRCS offices or conservation districts in each county, and at the NRCS Web site at http://www.tn.nrcs.usda.gov.