A new conservation program offers eligible landowners in Nebraska's Rainwater Basin the flexibility of letting an irrigation pivot cross their enrolled wetland. The Rainwater Basin Joint Venture cooperated with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a pilot Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program, which is available only in the Rainwater Basin wetland complex, covering parts of 17 counties in south central Nebraska.
The program is similar to the better-known Wetlands Reserve Program, in which a landowner receives financial incentives to restore, enhance and protect wetlands in exchange for placing marginal land into a conservation easement. Under easement terms of the new WREP, the landowner retains the right to cross a pivot through the enrolled wetland to irrigate the surrounding cropland or pasture.
The WREP was developed in reaction to Rainwater Basin landowner comments, which suggested that the inability to cross a pivot through enrolled land was preventing otherwise-eligible projects. Of the 1,861 wetlands that still function in the region, more than two-thirds are presently intersected by pivots, says Andy Bishop, RBJV coordinator.
The response to the new program has been positive, says Laurel Badura, wildlife biologist for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. "Landowners like the fact that they won't have to windshield-wipe their pivots, and will be able to pass them over the easement boundary."
A landowner may request that NRCS evaluate and permit additional uses on the site, such as haying or wood harvesting, provided they are consistent with long-term protection of the wetland. In the case of the Reserved Grazing Rights easement, the landowner also retains the right to graze the land under an approved grazing plan.
In all cases, landowners control access to the land, and may lease lands for undeveloped recreational activities, including hunting.
Interested landowners should contact their local NRCS office.