Reinvest in Minnesota Wetlands Reserve Program Acquisition and Restoration
$9,058,000 in fiscal year 2010 is to the Board of Water and Soil Resources to acquire permanent easements and restore wetlands and associated uplands in cooperation with he United States Department of Agriculture Wetlands Reserve Program. A list of proposed acquisitions and a list of proposed projects, describing the types and locations of restorations, must be provided as part of he required accomplishment plan.
Permanently protected 7,276 acres of priority wetlands and associated upland native grassland wildlife habitat via perpetual conservation easements on 63 sites.
The RIM-WRP Partnership permanently protected 7,276 acres of priority wetlands and associated upland native grassland wildlife habitat via perpetual conservation easements on 63 sites and leveraged over $13 million of federal Wetlands Reserve Program funds.
Described as the premier private lands wetland restoration easement program in the nation, the RIM-WRP partnership combined Minnesota's RIM Reserve conservation easement program and the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). Combining RIM Reserve and WRP allowed OHF to leverage Federal Farm Bill conservation dollars to Minnesota. Utilizing both programs resulted in competitive payment rates to landowners and sharing of the costs associated with perpetual easement acquisition and restoration by both the federal and state programs.This opportunity was offered statewide but had a priority focus in the ecological provinces of the state that have experienced significant losses of wetland and associated prairies. It was delivered by local NRCS staff, local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) staff and assisted by program staff from both NRCS and the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR). In addition, Ducks Unlimited (DU) contract employees and staff provided by Minnesota Waterfowl Association (MWA) assisted in program delivery. Since the SWCD is responsible for the local delivery of the RIM Reserve program to private landowners on behalf of the State of Minnesota, they were ideally suited to work in concert with their local NRCS staff to efficiently and effectively deliver the RIM-WRP partnership. Once an easement is acquired NRCS is responsible for maintenance, inspection and monitoring during the life of their 30-year WRP easement. The state of Minnesota assumes sole responsibility via its RIM Reserve easement once the 30-year WRP easement has expired. BWSR partners with local SWCDs to carry-out oversight, monitoring and inspection of its conservation easements.Final Summary:In 2008 and 2009 RIM-WRP sign-ups occurred. 100's of applications were generated that far exceeded this appropriation.63 RIM-WRP easements were acquired on 7,276 acres. $6.3 million of RIM funds from OHF were paid directly to landowners which leveraged over $13 million of federal WRP funds. Approximately 2,423 acres of wetlands and 4,853 acres of adjacent uplands have been protected.The RIM-WRP Partnership successfully demonstrated that the State of Minnesota can cooperatively work with a federal partner (NRCS) and through a local delivery system (SWCD, NRCS, DU and MWA) to implement a permanent easement protection program that yielded thousands of acres of permanently protected wildlife habitat. This significant leverage was due to the amount of easement payments, conservation plan payments, and other costs the NRCS contributed to this partnership. The NRCS made the bulk of the easement payment portion through 30-year WRP Easement acquisition, while BWSR paid an additional portion for the Permanent RIM Easement.NRCS paid approximately 75% of the restoration costs for these easements, with RIM picking up the remaining 25%. The use of NRCS Practice Standards, along with BWSR's Native Vegetation Guidelines led to very high diversity mixes being seeded. The level of wetland restoration was dependent on restorable extent that would not impact lands outside the easement area. BWSR & NRCS evaluated restoration extent during our scoring review to ensure restoration was actually feasible, then followed up with site analysis and surveys.Several easements contained CRP contracts, where looming expiration meant a risk of losing habitat that was already in good condition. We estimate that 400 acres contained CRP contracts that were set to expire. Upon execution of the WRP Easement and RIM Easement, CRP contracts were required to be terminated.Unfortunately, $1,141,926 of the original allocation was returned and the narrative below will explain the challenges that caused this to occur. Challenges included:1. A misunderstanding occurred between BWSR and LSOHC staff related to the transferring of one OHF appropriation to a future year appropriation. BWSR was under the false assumption that at the time of the final encumbrance date of the ML 2009 appropriation that we could just roll the balance to the ML 2010 appropriation. Once it was discovered that this was not possible we were already past the encumbrance date for this appropriation and could not make any new encumbrances to utilize the balance of funds.2. The State of Minnesota converted from an old financial system (MAPS) to a new system (SWIFT) during the period that this appropriation was open. This conversion caused a mis-allocation of ML 2009 RIM-WRP funds to ML 2010 RIM-WRP. Once this issue was discovered it was again past the date to make encumbrance changes to the ML 2009 appropriation.3. After the encumbrance deadline for these funds had passed a few landowners canceled their RIM-WRP applications. We were unable to reallocate those funds to additional applications since the encumbrance deadline date had passed.As this was the first appropriation that BWSR received from the OHF many lessons have been learned.One lesson learned with this first year of OHF appropriations was that we had one easement that took an extra long amount of time to be acquired due to a number of title issues. In future appropriations we have moved problem easements to newer appropriations in order to speed up the final reporting time period and allow enough time to get the title cleared.