The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it will help restore wetlands in over 22 states and Puerto Rico by providing almost $175 million in funding.
USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he plans to restore an additional 75,000 acres of wetlands this year by joining the Natural Resources Preservation Service’s Wetlands Conservation Program.
Healthy wetlands are critical in protecting the environment, and have functions that range from improving water quality, to preventing flooding and soil erosion, and creating and maintaining good wildlife habitats.
Wetlands are sometimes referred to as "nature’s kidneys," and according to the USDA, they naturally filter water and remove contaminants, recharge groundwater, prevent flooding and soil erosion, and slow down the water flow across the surface of the land.
Grants awarded for wetland protection are in addition to the already established conservation plan of American forests. Last month, the USDA granted $72 million for the permanent protection of private forest land in over 33 states through the Forest Legacy Program.
The Natural Resources Preservation Service was established by Congress in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service and leads natural resources conservation by ensuring private lands are restored and resilient to climate change and other environmental challenges.
May is significant for natural resource restoration as it is national Wetland Conservation Month and 2010 also marks the 75th anniversary of establishment of the preservation program.
Florida will receive the biggest chunk of the $175 million being awarded. Almost $30 million will be allocated to restore its wetlands, the same amount South Florida received in 2008, emphasizing the importance of wetland preservation in Florida.
“This is the largest single Wetlands Reserve Program contract that we have in the country,” stated Mack Gray, USDA deputy under secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment in a press release. “There are parts of the U.S. where 15,000 acres of wetland restoration would make very little difference.”