USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has finalized paperwork, legal work, land deeds, and financial payments on one of Illinois NRCS’ largest Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) easements to date. The NRCS now owns a conservation easement on about 6,300 acres of The Nature Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve in Fulton County.
With the purchase of the easement now complete, NRCS and Conservancy leaders are focusing on the task at hand: making plans to restore the property from cropland into a high-quality natural area with backwater lakes and wetlands.
Funds to cover much of the current market value of the property were recently transferred to the Conservancy who will use the money to help pay off the remaining cost of acquiring the property after purchasing the 7,100-acre preserve six years ago. NRCS will continue to monitor the site and will offer an additional $500,000 to support the more technical work of helping to awaken dormant native seeds and plants as well as to “undo” many of the damages the wetland has endured over the past 100 years.
“The WRP uses funds and science to invest in wetlands—the land, the water, and the communities surrounding it--are all improved,” adds NRCS State Conservationist Bill Gradle. “Over the next few years, this area will reawaken and serve the people of the area and the people of Illinois. As with all our conservation programs, the end result of programs like WRP are environmental benefits that impact and improve the state of Illinois.”
Bruce Boyd, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Illinois, said he welcomed NRCS as a partner in the effort to restore Emiquon, which is expected to become a significant part of both the Illinois River ecosystem and the local community.
“Emiquon was once the jewel of the Illinois River and it can be again,” Boyd said. “Our goal is to restore the wetlands communities at Emiquon as well as the natural process of flooding and drying that is critical to the health of the Illinois River system and many plants and animals that call it home.”
The partnership between NRCS and the Conservancy in Emiquon’s restoration has been in the works for about two years. NRCS officials had to ensure that title to the land was clear of encumbrances that would have negatively impacted the ability to restore the property to its full potential.