A change in the way applications for the Wetlands Reserve Program will be evaluated should make a good thing even better, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service says.

WRP acres recently reached 2 million nationwide. However, even more WRP acres might have been added if not for an appraisal process in use the past two years that some landowners deemed to be too restrictive.

Because of the way the 2008 farm bill changed the WRP appraisal process, NRCS encourages landowners to reconsider WRP and submit applications before a Dec. 1 deadline for them to be included in the next round of funding.

Harold Deckerd, assistant state conservationist for NRCS in Missouri, says the “yellow book” appraisal process used in 2006-07 is being replaced. It essentially paid landowners the difference between an appraisal of a site’s value “before” being converted to a wetland and an appraisal of the land’s value “after” conversion to a wetland. Future WRP offers will be based upon fair market value appraisals.

“This is good news for private landowners who were interested in WRP during the time the “yellow book” appraisal method was in force but did not participate because they thought the government’s offer to purchase an easement was too low,” Deckerd says. “We think this new appraisal method will result in landowners being more fairly compensated.”

Other proposed changes to WRP would change to seven years the length of time an applicant must own land before it is eligible for the program; eliminate a lump-sum payment for easements of more than $500,000; limit annual cost-share payments for restoration costs to $50,000; and make the program available only to private landowners.

Missouri has more WRP acreage than all but five states (Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and California). WRP provides technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to address increase wetlands; improve wildlife habitat; and address soil, water and natural resource concerns on private land.

The voluntary program strives to achieve the greatest wetland functions and values and to receive optimum wildlife habitat benefits on every acre enrolled.

Enrollment options include permanent easements, 30-year easements, cost-share for restoration of wetlands, and 30-year contracts on land owned by Indian tribes.

Wetlands 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 flood buffer, and they help protect water quality by filtering out pollutants. They also often improve aesthetics, and they offer recreational opportunities.

Deckerd says fields that frequently flood and fields in which it is difficult to produce crops are good candidates for WRP. He encourages private landowners in Missouri with land that might qualify to consider the program, including landowners who showed an earlier interest in the program but were not happy with the compensation they were offered.

To sign up or re-apply for WRP, or to get more information about it and other NRCS programs, contact the NRCS office serving your county. Look in the phone book under “U.S. Government, Department of Agriculture,” or access this Web site: http://offices.usda.gov.