USDA HAS begun the sign-up for a Conservation Reserve Program initiative to help farmers restore up to 500,000 acres of floodplains by planting bottomland hardwood trees on private lands.

Sign-up for the program, authorized in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, was announced by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Deputy Secretary James Moseley during a visit to south Mississippi.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to help improve our environment through the sequestration of over 1 million metric tons of greenhouse gases,” said Veneman, describing one of the effects of expanding hardwood forests. “This initiative will help restore critical wildlife habitat, while improving water quality and reducing the impacts of floods.”

“States are allocated specific amounts of acreage based on their pro-rata share of eligible acreage to ensure nationwide protection of vital floodplains,” said Moseley, speaking during a visit to Riva Ridge Farm in Natchez. He also made a stop at Alcorn State University in Lorman, Miss.

“While farmers and ranchers within most states may be eligible, the initiative is targeted toward areas in the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio river valleys and the southern coastal plain.”

Bottomland hardwoods are streamside forest trees, including oak, maple, ash, cypress and tupelo. These trees grow generally on lands that are periodically flooded. The initiative will protect against future flood damage by slowing the flow of water and shoring up soil. Each enrolled site will be restored to an ecologically diverse forest type.

Eligible land must be located within a 100-year floodplain, comprised of primarily wetland soils and adjacent to permanent rivers and streams.

Sign-up for the hardwood tree initiative is on a continuous basis, meaning eligible land may be enrolled at any time at local Farm Service Agency offices.

Additional information on the hardwood tree initiative and other CRP programs is available on FSA's Web site at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crpinfo.htm.