Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the availability of funding to restore, enhance, protect, and manage habitat for migratory birds and other wetland-dependent wildlife through the Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program.

WREP is a voluntary conservation program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service that works through partnership agreements with states, nongovernmental organizations, and tribes.

“America’s wetlands play crucial roles in providing habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and plants and in sustaining healthy ecosystems,” said Vilsack. “The wetland restoration and enhancement actions made possible through WREP will maximize wildlife habitat values, water quality, and improve the overall environment.”

At least $25 million will be available through WREP to eligible partners, who may submit proposals to their NRCS state office. Proposals may be submitted for individual projects, watershed-wide, or a larger geographic area.

All proposals must be received no later than close of business Monday, May 24.

Proposals will not be accepted by fax, e-mail, or through the grants.gov Web site.

NRCS state conservationists will evaluate partner proposals using a competitive process. Priority will be given to proposals that:

• Have a high potential to achieve wetland restoration and significantly improve wildlife habitat.

• Significantly leverage non-federal financial and technical resources and coordinate with other local, state, tribal, or federal efforts.

• Demonstrate the partners’ history of working cooperatively with landowners;

• Provide innovation in wetland protection, restoration, and enhancement methods and outcome-based performance measures and methods.

• Provide evidence that wetland restoration and enhancement activities will be completed within two years of easement closing.

• Provide for monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of the restoration activities;

• Provide for matching financial or technical assistance funds to assist landowners with the implementation of the Wetlands Reserve Plan of Operations and associated contracts.

• Facilitate the submission of landowner applications.

• Provide for outreach to, and participation of, beginning farmers or ranchers, socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers, limited resource farmers or ranchers, and Indian tribes within the area covered by the agreement.

For additional information about WREP visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/wrp/index.html to view a copy of the national request for proposals published in the Federal Register. For information about other NRCS conservation programs visit www.nrcs.usda.gov or the nearest USDA Service Center in your area.