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The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service has awarded a five-year, $3 million grant to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Aquaculture/Fisheries Department for wetlands conservation research.
Michael Eggleton, a professor of fisheries science in that UAPB department, is the principal investigator. Co-principal investigators include Uttam Deb, assistant professor of aquaculture economics; Yingkai Fang, assistant professor of natural resources economics; and Jonathan Spurgeon, assistant unit leader at the U.S. Geological Survey-Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
The purpose of the grant is to provide a formal evaluation of the NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program-Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE) program. That program allows landowners to cost-share with NRCS in converting their marginal or retired farmlands back to native wetland and associated habitats.
“Since 1995, NCRS has enrolled more than 14,000 easements under the ACEP-WRE program, totaling more than 2.7 million acres nationally,” Eggleton said in a news release. “However, there has been little attempt historically to formally assess or evaluate the ACEP-WRE program. It is important to quantify how much environmental or ecological improvement the wetlands actually provide as well as how much economic benefit the program provides to landowners and society.”
The Farm Production and Conservation Business Center of the NRCS has also requested that UAPB and its partners develop an ecological monitoring and assessment framework for the program. “Additionally, NRCS wants UAPB to quantify the associated costs of implementing such a framework for the whole program,” Eggleton said. “In short, evaluating restoration outcomes is important such that NRCS can be sure their program funding is being used effectively towards impactful wetland restoration.”