Landowners, Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups lead the charge for private wetlands restoration efforts.
By Steve Lightfoot
Despite considerable wetlands loss nationwide during the last 50 years, Texans are working to protect a chunk of the state’s historic wetlands, thanks in no small part to conservation incentives for private landowners.
As land values continue to climb, particularly for development along the Texas coast, so does the need to ensure wetlands conservation. That is where groups such as Ducks Unlimited (DU) step in, leveraging fundraising dollars with matching state and federal grants to help private landowners justify maintaining wetlands on their property. More than 160 local DU chapters throughout Texas raise upwards of $3.3 million annually, money that works for conservation from Canada to the coast. Since 1985, Texas’ partnership with DU has conserved more than 200,000 acres of wetlands and waterfowl habitat in Saskatchewan. This province provides many of the ducks that winter in Texas.
Here in Texas, DU money is matched with state and federal grants to maximize the benefits for wetlands.
In 1991, DU, TPWD, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service created the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project, a project that covers a 28-county focus area along the coast. Since its inception, more than 33,565 acres of shallow, seasonal wetlands have been restored or enhanced at a cost of $7.1 million. Landowners have completed upwards of 432 projects with 727 individually managed wetland units signed under a 10- to 15-year Wetlands Development Agree-ment with DU and TPWD.
Ducks Unlimited and TPWD partnered again in 2001 with the NRCS and the USFWS to initiate a similar venture in East Texas. The East Texas Wetlands Project targets a 46-county area in northeastern Texas. During the first three years of the project, more than 200 landowners have received technical guidance on wetlands conservation, resulting in 40 projects to restore about 2,500 acres of wetland and bottomland hardwood habitat. Another 15 projects are currently in the planning phase, and they will improve habitat on an additional 1,000 acres.
In addition to these initiatives, the 1990 Farm Bill established a federal Wetlands Reserve Program. That has become a popular, cost effective and ecologically successful voluntary incentive-based wetlands restoration program. WRP provides incentives to farmers and ranchers to stop cultivating areas that were once wetlands and return them to wetlands once again. About 50 wetland projects covering 16,000 acres in Texas have been enrolled in the program during the last three years.
Landowners interested in participating in these programs can get more information in the TPWD Wetlands Assistance Guide for Landowners, a comprehensive guide to federal, state and private programs offering technical and financial assistance to private wetland owners within the state of Texas. To receive a copy, send an e-mail to: <email@example.com>.
Since more than 50 percent of wetlands have been lost in Texas, it’ s not likely we can completely restore these habitats, but landowners are realizing benefits in water quality and improved wildlife habitat. With continued DU and government support, landowner participation and education, these private wetlands programs have an opportunity to make a significant impact on the future of wildlife and plant communities in the Lone Star State.