Mitigation banking offers win-win for Virginia producers, wetlands
Throughout our nation’s history, landowners have perceived wetlands to be wasted space, and converted many high-quality acres to agricultural, urban and industrial uses.
Though the term “wetland” brings to mind areas of shallow water, cattails and migrating birds, about three quarters of Virginia’s one million acres of wetlands are nontidal and may hold surface water temporarily.
Wetland conservation has been an integral part of Virginia agriculture since the 1985 Farm Bill introduced new (Swampbuster) provisions tying program eligibility to mitigation or restoration of converted wetlands. Producers seeking benefits through most USDA programs must comply with these provisions by affirming they will not impact these areas on their property.
As wetlands are not always easy to spot, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) can help landowners identify, delineate and certify them. Over the last five years, Virginia soil scientists have completed between 350 and 500 certified wetland determinations annually in the Commonwealth.
Wetland mitigation banking can offer relief for landowners facing challenges in protecting these vital ecosystems. Like other types of banks, the system works in credits and debits with restoration, creation or enhancement of wetlands in one area compensating for unavoidable impacts on wetlands at other locations.
NRCS is now accepting proposals for up to $5 million in funding to help eligible Indian tribes, state and local units of government, for-profit entities and nongovernmental organizations develop wetland mitigation banks that can assist agricultural producers in maintaining eligibility for USDA programs.
“Wetlands are critically important to the health of our natural resources and Virginia has lost an estimated 42 percent of its wetlands since the 1780s,” said Jack Bricker, State Conservationist. “The Wetland Mitigation Banking Program allows us to work with experienced partners to give farmers another option for meeting Farm Bill requirements while also enhancing soil health and water quality, protecting wildlife habitat and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere.”