The Wetlands Reserve Program enrolled 8,643 acres in the state in the last fiscal year, more than tripling its enrollment from 2009. Kevin Dacey with the state’s Natural Resources Conservation Service says that’s great progress, but by comparison Missouri had 4.8 million acres of wetlands in pre-settlement times.

“That’s our historic wetland base for Missouri. Now, we’ve come from in 1985 where we had about 650,000 (acres)… now we’re closer to having almost a million acres of wetland in Missouri,” Dacey said.

He says the project has worked to restore and protect more than 130,000 acres of wetlands since it began in 1992.

“They are tremendous water quality polishers. The water going in to a wetland and the water coming out, the water coming out of a wetland is greatly improved… When the place floods and we’ve got a wetland in place, it does fantastic things for allowing waters to recede slower because that wetland’s going to catch that water and it’s going to let it out slower,” Dacey said.

Dacey says wetlands also diversify plant and animal species on the land, offering new recreational and research opportunities. But he says the program really hinges on the interest of landowners. He says it can often be beneficial for the landowners.

“They try to enroll a lot of their ground that is hard to farm, frequently flooded, the type of soils that stay wet. This is the perfect program for it so we have a good opportunity to assist some landowners who were trying to farm some marginal ground,” Dacey said.

Dacey explains what kind of work the program does on a typical piece of land.

“We put in wetland features back into the landscape. For example, we probably put oxbows or slews, or small depressional areas. Now, more than ever, what we’re trying to do is do more of a natural looking wetland. As opposed to just putting up a levee around a field and just capturing water these are truly functional according to the type of soils and what we believe the wetlands used to be there, historically,” Dacey said.

Dacey says the program’s been popular in Northern Missouri, and is now branching out to Southwest Missouri and the bootheel areas.

He says they’re always looking for more land to include in the program. For more information, visit this website. The deadline to apply for the program for this year is November 30th.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports [1 min MP3]