nonsystematic restoration programs. These include the Section 404 program, the Conservation Reserve Program, FWS restoration projects, and a limited number of COE and Bureau of Reclamation projects.
Clean Water Act regulations establish procedures for permitting many activities in wetlands. Consistent with Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, Section 404 permit writers typically seek to avoid or minimize impacts on wetlands resulting from those activities. Where impacts are unavoidable, however, other forms of mitigation such as enhancement, restoration, or creation of replacement habitat are often employed to offset losses. In many cases, restoration should be the preferred method. Although many small-scale wetland restoration projects are being conducted as required by conditions of Section 404 permits. COE maintains no systematic record of these projects.
Congress established the Conservation Reserve Program in the 1985 Food Security Act to provide incentives to farmers to revegetate highly erodible lands. Under the program, farmers enter into 10-year contracts and receive annual payments as long as they remain in the program. Some drained wetlands have been restored through this program. Most of these are prairie pothole wetland restoration projects in north-central states; CRP has funded a smaller number of wetland restoration projects in the South. The USDA estimates that millions of acres of cropland have been taken out of production through this program.
As much as the CRP has achieved, it has severe limitations as a wetland restoration program. The USDA views the CRP primarily as a crop production control program. Wetlands were included almost as an afterthought. Although restoration of scattered wetlands in the prairie pothole region successfully reestablishes duck breeding, feeding, and nesting habitat, such opportunistic, small-scale restoration projects may have fewer benefits in other kinds of wetlands systems, such as broad floodplains of southern rivers. Furthermore, CRP contracts are for only 10 years, enough time for the establishment of herbaceous wetland species but not for the reestablishment of wetland forests. Also, farmers may withdraw the contracts after 4 years.
The Agricultural Wetland Reserve Program of the 1990 Farm Bill is directed at wetland systems and provides for conservation easements