Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Wetlands Restoration Questions? Ask the Natural Resources Conservation Service!

Over the years much of the public discussion about keeping wetlands on the landscape has been around wetlands regulation.  Since the 1990 Mitigation Memorandum of Agreement (
) required mitigation of wetlands under the Section 404 program, there has been considerable discussion about replacing wetlands either on site or through some other mechanism such as wetland mitigation banks or in lieu fee.  This has also required the science of wetlands restoration to receive an enormous amount of attention and as a result, government, consultants, scientists and even the general public are much more knowledgeable about wetland restoration now than 30 years ago.

What is less well known is that during roughly the same period another federal agency was becoming the nation’s leading expert in successful wetlands restoration.  By 2008 the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) had restored two million acres of wetlands through the Wetland Reserve Program alone.  In addition NRCS also provided funding and/or technical expertise to wetland restoration in other NRCS and USDA programs including the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Emergency Watershed Program. In the process NRCS learned a lot and they have excellent information to share. 

In the late 1990s I worked for NRCS in the same national office that implemented the Wetlands Reserve Program.  It was apparent that NRCS’ experience in restoring bottomland hardwoods—probably the bulk of WRP acres–was extensive and they were providing detailed information to their staff on correct storage of acorns and seedlings, planting timing, flooding or water requirements, etc.  This knowledge had not come easily.  Initially there had been consensus that simply leaving these floodplain landscapes alone and allowing them to heal themselves would be enough.  But eventually NRCS staff came to understand that 200 years of clearing, draining, building dams and levees, and other alterations had changed the hydrology of North America’s farmland.  Restoring wetlands—even a restoration project of 1,000-3,000 acre–was a mere postage stamp on a much larger altered landscape.  Wetlands would not return on their own.  They needed help–sometimes a little and sometimes a lot.

In general, the more altered the landscape, the more wetlands restoration would cost.  This is why wetland mitigation is so expensive.  Replacing wetlands in urban landscapes with all the roads, parking lots, buildings and other structures that change hydrology requires a lot more resources than rural landscapes and even rural landscapes require work.

For more information about some of the wetland restoration, assessment, and science tools available check out:

NRCS Wetlands Science Lab Website

Wetland Restoration, Enhancement, and Management

Stream Water Surface Profile Modification for Wetland Restoration

Wetland Wildlife

How to Manipulate Water in a New, Restored or Enhanced Wetland to Encourage Plant Establishment

Conservation Effects Assessment Project (assessing ecological services of wetlands)

Wetlands in Agricultural Landscapes Bibliography

National Conservation Practice Standards

Wetland Training (includes online training modules)

Wetland Products

Note:  In addition to the national sites listed above, each state may have additional wetland restoration practices developed to the conditions and type of wetland in their specific state.

And for more on NRCS Programs:

2008 Farm Bill Conservation Programs

NRCS WRP Website

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