Effective Strategies to Monitor, Manage, and Ensure Compliance on Wetlands Reserve Program Conservation Easements to Benefit Wildlife

Conservation easements provide an important tool for agencies and organizations to protect environmentally sensitive areas and improve environmental quality. The Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (i.e., Farm Bill) established the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) with goals to “protect, restore, and enhance the functions and values of wetland ecosystems.” Since 1990, WRP objectives have expanded to include 1) provision of habitat for migratory birds and other wetland-dependent wildlife, 2) protection and improvement of water quality, and 3) floodwater attenuation and groundwater recharge. Currently, WRP includes approximately 1.9 million acres of permanent easements and 0.4 million acres of longterm contracts that protect wetlands and associated upland habitats, making WRP the largest USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) easement program. The NRCS and the University of Tennessee have initiated the National Easement Assessment Project to evaluate current NRCS monitoring strategies and recommend alternative approaches to monitor, adaptively manage, and ensure compliance on WRP easements. We will summarize strategies used by other federal, state, and nongovernmental agencies and organizations to monitor their lands and recommend opportunities for partnership with NRCS. Furthermore, we will outline a multi-tiered assessment approach that incorporates remote sensing, rapid assessment procedures, and intensive on-site data collection to effectively monitor condition of wetland easements. We will present the preliminary multi-tiered assessment model, developed using recommendations from wetland experts and practitioners across the United States, and outline pilot studies important for validating models and selecting indicators of ecological condition. Furthermore, we will outline an inventory strategy that will allow NRCS to identify and report the habitats present on their conservation easements. An effective monitoring program will enable NRCS to strategically manage easements and inform placement of future stewardship lands. Proc. Annu. Conf. Southeast. Assoc. Fish and Wildl. Agencies 65:171

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