The Wetlands Reserve Program is near death in Arkansas and other Southern states, according to an official with Ducks Unlimited's 11-state southern region.

DU says the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the federal agency that administers the farm bill conservation program, is getting few takers since the program's appraisal valuation process changed in 2006.

The modifications lowered easement payment offers to landowners, causing a decline in acceptance rates. Since the modified appraisal process went into effect, WRP enrollment has dropped from an annual average of more than 16,000 acres to just 528 acres accepted by only three landowners in 2006.

Ken Babcock, with Ducks Unlimited's southern regional office in Jackson, Miss., says the lack of interest should be addressed in the 2007 farm bill. “The future of wintering waterfowl habitat in the South depends on WRP paying farmers, ranchers and other landowners a fair price to restore inferior cropland back to the wetlands it once was.

DU works with the NRCS and private landowners to implement the WRP. The program helps landowners protect soil and water resources, as well as establish long-term conservation of wildlife habitat.