NCSU Wildlife Damage Notes

Waterfowl on Prior Converted Wetlands in North Carolina

Excellent habitat for waterfowl and many other kinds of wildlife can be created on prior converted (PC) wetlands (Words in bold are defined in the glossary on page 15). These PC wetlands were drained by ditches and tile systems years ago to permit tillage. Some landowners are now interested in restoring these wetlands. In some cases, the fields have retained their seasonal wetness, making cropping unprofitable. In other instances, landowners may want to benefit recreationally, economically, ecologically, or aesthetically by enhancing the wildlife resources on these areas. Government and conservation organization incentives may be available to help landowners restore these wetlands. Local offices of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Soil Conservation Service (SCS) make PC wetland determinations.
This booklet will help landowners clarify their objectives, identify sources of help and information, determine what permits are needed and which agencies grant the permits, and review the steps for planning and constructing PC wetlands. The booklet includes guidelines for managing vegetation and water levels, as well as suggestions on hunting to encourage conservation while providing the highest quality hunting experiences.

Although landowners in other states may find this publication useful, regulations and incentives for wetland creation vary among states. The USDA Soil Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and any state wildlife management agency will help landowners who wish to restore wetlands.

General Considerations

Wetlands created on PC land should be designed with water control structures that will permit draining in the spring. The drained land can be planted to crops that will generate income from a summer harvest. After harvest, water can be pumped into the wetland area for wildlife use in the fall and winter.

The alternative to planting a crop in the spring is to allow native plants to grow on the drained land. This is called moist- soil management. By varying the dates of spring drawdown and winter flooding, by fertilizing and liming, and by controlling vegetation through disking, burning, or herbicides, you can create a variety of vegetation conditions. Each wetland site responds differently to moist- soil management, making this a challenging option. Moist- soil units produce more varied habitats than farmed wetlands, and moist- soil wetlands are less expensive to manage. Wildlife researchers in the Midwest have shown that plants in moist- soil wetlands can produce greater amounts of higher quality waterfowl foods at less cost than planted crops. However, if undesirable weeds invade, more intensive management may be required in moist- soil wetlands.

Productive moist- soil management units have an irregular or patchy appearance in the winter. These variations in vegetation height and density provide protective cover sought by ducks. Moist- soil units also harbor a great variety of aquatic insects and invertebrates, such as larval dragonflies, aquatic beetles, and snails. Invertebrates are vital sources of proteins and oils that waterfowl and other birds need for successful reproduction in their northern nesting grounds. Farmed wetlands also provide invertebrates in addition to seeds, but these farmed areas are not as productive as moist- soil units for ducks and other birds. In general, moist- soil units have higher wildlife abundance and greater diversity than farmed wetlands. However, farmed wetlands surrounded by winter wheat or rye fields are more attractive to Canada geese. Another option, besides growing row crops, is to produce crawfish, which can be raised commercially on restored PC wetlands. County Extension Centers have information on crawfish production and other crop options for farmers.

After water control structures have been installed, the landowner can choose between farming the restored PC wetland or taking on the challenge of moist- soil management at any time. No matter which option is chosen, farm machinery access to the wetland must be considered. These decisions need to be made during the planning phase of wetland restoration. However, with either option, a ready source of water to pump into the wetland areas in the fall is critical for successful management.


Before making detailed plans, you should have general ideas on the size and type of wetland to be restored, the benefits you expect, and the maximum personal financial investment you are willing to make. Answers to these questions will help you communicate effectively with agency professionals.

Technical assistance is not simply advice on wetland design. Through public agencies, professionals can explain legal requirements, identify cost- share programs, evaluate the site, and assist with design and management of the wetland. Agencies that offer assistance are listed under "Agencies and Organizations" later in this booklet. A listing and description of major cost- share and technical assistance programs is provided under "Assistance Programs." A good choice for your initial contact is the area USDA office.

Legal Requirements

Your project will be exempt from "Swampbuster" regulations affecting USDA cost- share program benefits if you choose to restore a prior converted wetland under the "Swampbuster" provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985. Manipulating PC wetlands will not adversely affect benefits you may be receiving through other programs. Normal agricultural activities were exempted from the Section 404 permit requirements of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 by provisions of the 1977 Clean Water Act. To be sure of your property's classification and other regulatory requirements affecting its use, contact the SCS office in your county.

Though PC wetlands are exempt from these federal regulations, state and local regulations may apply. Regulations in North Carolina may require permits for dam safety, water use, impoundment's, and streamflow modification. For assistance contact the North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources.

Site Evaluation

No aspect of wetlands planning is more important than site evaluation, and technical assistance from SCS is strongly recommended. The site evaluation includes gathering information on hydrology, soil and parent material characteristics, existing vegetation, site topography, site history, flooding potential, and characteristics of adjacent lands. All are important, but most critical are hydrology and soil and parent material characteristics.

Hydrology encompasses all aspects of site water conditions. Site evaluators consider surface and subsurface water conditions, including the site water budget. A water budget includes inflow and outflow rates (including seepage), precipitation, and evapotranspiration. After the water budget has been determined, watershed acreage is used to compute the average amount of inflow and outflow expected for the planned wetland. Many factors, including land steepness and vegetative cover, affect the rate of flow. In addition, watershed size and topography are important in predicting and planning for major floods.

Important soil and parent material factors include soil texture, composition, distribution, depth, permeability, and erodability. All of these traits influence water retention potential; the suitability of on- site soil for constructing earthen dams, dikes, and levees, the need for bed lining to prevent excessive seepage; and, to a large extent, the cost of the project. If materials must be imported to seal the wetland floor, then the site is not a good candidate for restoration. Many PC wetlands have clay subsoil's that are excellent for constructing earthen dams and levees. Parent material underlying the soil horizons may also be used in dam and levee construction.

If the land was drained for the first time in the last decade or so, the topsoil usually contains a seedbank of many dormant seeds, tubers, and organisms from the previous wetland. When rewatered properly, this wetland vegetation will regenerate. Areas that were drained several decades or more in the past will require soil conditioning and seeding to establish the desired vegetation.

During site evaluation you should determine the types of water retention structures and their location, borrow areas, and water level control devices. Beginning with the site topography, flooding potential, and the characteristics of adjacent lands, the evaluator estimates additional costs for sealing, seeding, and planting, or other considerations that may require reducing the size of the wetland or increasing available funds.

Water Level Management

Detailed plans for the wetland can be developed after the site evaluation has been completed. Dams, levees, water level control devices, and wetland islands for nesting and resting are considered in the plan. These structures should be constructed according to SCS standards.

The levee foundation should consist of clay or of bedrock without faults or fissures. If available material is not suitable, clay should be obtained from other areas of the site and a clay core should be installed in the levee, ensuring that the base is tightly sealed to an adequate foundation.

Levees should be constructed with a top surface at least 12 feet wide to allow movement and operation of mowing equipment. Wide levees are less susceptible to damage from waves and burrowing muskrats, nutria, and beaver. However, if you expect extreme burrowing problems, you should consider including wire screening as part of the levee design and construction. Allow adequate room in the site design for levees. A levee 6 feet high with a 12- foot- wide top and minimum side slope of three to one will be 48 feet wide across the base. A more gradual slope of six to one on the interior side will reduce levee erosion from wave action and encourage use of the levee by Canada geese. Where excessive erosion by exposure to prevailing winds may occur, rock riprap is recommended. However, riprap prevents vegetation and is expensive to purchase and transport. All levees must be seeded or sodded with bahia grass, perennial rye, or other erosion- resistant grasses. Mixing these grasses with ladino clover provides good grazing for waterfowl, especially Canada geese.

Water level control structures used on wetlands today include the stoplog, culvert- flashboard, and swiveling elbow devices. A good water level control structure:

  • allows total draining of the wetland
  • allows easy adjustment of the water level
  • does not require modification because of increases in flow
  • is simple and requires little maintenance
  • resists vandalism
  • resists blockage from debris or plant growth
  • resists blockage by beaver

Concrete water control structures are used widely; however, many land owners prefer a half- pipe or culvert flashboard riser which is similar in operation. These structures have slotted walls allowing the placement or removal of flashboards, often referred to as "stoplogs," to adjust water levels (Figure 1). These devices require little maintenance, can be made resistant to tampering by placing a locking device over the boards to prevent their removal, and are minimally susceptible to debris blockage. The concrete device is more expensive and difficult to build than the other types. Beavers are adept at adding blocking material above the top flashboard. You should inspect the mechanism periodically for beaver activity and if needed, remove the new blockage material or consider trapping the problem beavers. Contact the county Cooperative Extension Center for information on beaver and muskrat control.

Figure 1. Half-pipe flashboard riser water control structure.

The swiveling elbow device is the least expensive. A collector pipe is placed on the upstream side of the levee and entrenched so that the top of the collector pipe is flush with the levee bottom (Figure 2). The collector is connected to a pipe running through the levee and joined with a sealed o- ring to a pipe elbow (Figure 2). When the elbow is in the upright position, the wetland will maintain its maximum water level. Adjusting the elbow to the horizontal position allows complete system drainage. The top of the elbow base must be located below the bottom of the levee to allow complete drainage. Though inexpensive and simple, the swiveling elbow design is limited to small- flow- volume systems. Also, this system is easily vandalized.

Figure 2. Swiveling elbow water control structure.

Besides normal water level control structures, wetland design must incorporate emergency spillways to prevent levee damage caused by major floods. An emergency spillway may simply be a low section along the levee that is connected by a drainway to the wetland outflow system.

Remember, when planning any water management system, you should seek technical assistance from the SCS or someone with experience in dam and levee design.

Farmed Wetlands

It is a good idea to design equipment access points for a wetland whether it will be farmed or not. However, access points for farmed wetlands should be sturdier and more numerous than those for nonfarmed wetlands. For example, large equipment such as combines and grain trucks require larger, sturdier access zones than simple mowing and disking equipment used in moist- soil management. Multiple, conveniently placed access points will reduce fuel costs, increase efficiency, and ease wetland entrance and exit.

Wetland design often calls for providing zones of different water depths. This is sometimes accomplished by dredging areas to lower depths or terracing areas to provide tiered water levels. In designing a farmed wetland, strive for an even surface with a gradually sloping, crowned field to ease equipment operation and the movement of water off the field edges into drainage ditches.

The area should be shaped to allow sufficient turning radius for large pieces of farming equipment.

Water level control systems for farmed wetlands should allow complete drainage in less than four days. Speed is necessary because windows of opportunity for preplanting and planting activities are often short. A drawback to rapid draining of wetlands is that more nutrients and sediment are carried from the site by the exiting water.

Moist- soil Wetlands

Moist- soil wetlands can be designed to provide a variety of water depths during fall, winter, and spring. Each wetland species, whether plant or animal, has its own preferred water depth. For example waterfowl and wading birds have the following preferences:

  • 0 to 2 inches: common snipe, lesser yellowlegs, sandpipers
  • 2 to 4 inches: yellow crowned night heron, little blue heron
  • 4 to 6 inches: mallard, green-winged teal
  • 6 to 8 inches: pintail, blue-winged teal
  • 8 to 10 inches: shoveller
  • 10 to 12 inches: American coot
Your site may be ideally suited for providing variable water depths. However, if the site is extremely flat or steeply sloped, topographic modifications may be necessary. Terracing may provide variable water depths to the extent you desire. When shaping wetlands and creating islands, topsoil should be removed, stored, and replaced to assure good growing conditions for wetland plants or crops.

Islands provide isolated areas where birds can nest and gain refuge from many predators. An island of 1/8 to 1/4 acre is all that is required. Islands should be a minimum of 36 inches above the maximum water level. They should be constructed in a V- or U- shaped design, with the pointed end facing into the direction from which the strongest winds come (Figure 3). In the coastal plain of North Carolina, the worst winter storms are the northeasters, and thus the point of the island should be oriented to the northeast. Irregular shorelines provide some protection and shelter as wind directions change. They also afford the visual isolation sought by some bird species during nesting.

Figure 3. Island design and location for wind and wave protection. Source: Olson, R. 1990. Developing Artificial Wetlands to Benefit Wildlife and Livestock. Publ. B-938. Laramie: University of Wyoming.

Dividing a managed area into sections using levees can allow for different water levels in the same wetland. This practice encourages greater animal and plant species diversity and provides for more wildlife viewing opportunities. However, the creation of wetland subsections will require construction of additional levees, adding considerable cost to the project.


Construction contractors need detailed plans. The investment in design drawings should be in proportion to design complexity and project cost. Construction plans usually include:

  • provisions for on-site inspection during construction
  • construction activity boundaries
  • equipment access points
  • utility rights-of-way
  • borrow area locations and dimensions
  • vegetation areas that should remain undisturbed
  • erosion control measures (best management practices)
  • levee, spillway, water level control structure, and pumping station design specifications
    and locations
  • areas that will require sealing and lining
  • site topographic details
  • areas for placement of riprap
  • seeding or sodding methods for levees and spillways
  • construction equipment types, sizes, and quantities

Before construction is started, specifications included in the design plan will need to be marked on the ground. All boundaries, depths of cut, elevations of fill, slope angles and positions, locations of levees, and locations of water control structures must be staked and flagged. Walk over the site with the contractor to ensure clear understanding of the project and to make necessary adjustments. A time line of events, including deadlines for completion, should be established for all construction phases.

During construction, the site should be inspected at critical times by the landowner, personnel assisting the landowner, and supervising members of the construction party. When design modifications are required, solving problems quickly and efficiently will save money.

Managing Farmed Wetlands

Farmers know the proper times and methods for crop planting, maintenance, and harvesting. However, new experience is needed to learn drainage times for restored wetlands and how long after complete drainage to wait before using farming machinery. This interval can be determined only by experimenting, as each wetland is different. Wet weather can cause delays by preventing entry into the wetland during desirable planting periods. In a farmed wetland system, it may be desirable to have pumps and drainage equipment on hand. If you plan to use conventional tillage, the water level must be lowered early enough in the spring to allow the soil to dry to a depth of 12 inches (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Drained wetland in the spring recently planted to Japanese millet.

To maximize your wetland's potential for attracting wintering wildlife, you can plant separate food patches that will remain standing after reflooding. Japanese millet is a good choice. It is tolerant of wetland conditions and can be planted in damp soils as late as early July. Japanese millet will germinate in saturated soils or in areas of shallow flooding. It is acid tolerant and withstands reflooding as long as its leaves are above the water surface. Milo, tropical corn, soybeans, and buckwheat have been planted with success in some wetlands. Proso, browntop, and German millets are poor choices because they deteriorate rapidly when flooded. Contact your county Cooperative Extension Center for advice on planting dates and seed suppliers in your area.

Flooding should begin in early fall. Gradual flooding will provide resources for wildlife over a longer period than rapid flooding (Figure 5). Generally, gradual flooding with 15 to 25 percent of the area at water depths of 5 to 10 inches is most beneficial to migrating waterfowl. On farmed wetlands, pumping from a supplemental water source will be required in most years to achieve fall flooding. If hunting is planned, the wetland flooding should start about two weeks before early migratory ducks arrive. In coastal North Carolina, this time would be in mid- September.

Figure 5. Recently flooded Japanese millet in the fall.

Managing Moist- Soil Wetlands

In contrast to managing farmed wetlands, moist- soil management relies on native plants. You must time drainage in the spring so that desired native plants flourish and undesirable plant growth is discouraged. In the fall, wetland flooding is timed to provide food and cover for waterfowl and other species until late winter. One challenge of moist- soil wetland management is recognizing and controlling undesirable plants before they take over the area. Waterfowl biologists with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) can help you deal with problem plants.

Fall Flooding

Wetland units are flooded in the fall to provide food and cover for migrating birds, especially ducks. In North Carolina, ducks arrive from mid- September to December, depending on species and northern storms. Teal and pintails are early migrants. They are followed by blacks, mallards, ringnecks, gadwalls, widgeon, and other ducks. Balancing early season with late- winter benefits requires careful management because flooded vegetation is consumed steadily by bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates as well as by wildlife (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Swans and ducks attracted to flooded moist-soil wetland in Alligator River National Wildlife refuge, Manns Harbor, North Carolina.

One option in moist- soil wetland areas is to flood individual areas at different times. Flooding to attract early- fall migrating teal and pintails can start in September. Other units can be flooded in stages into November or December. Units flooded in December will hold food and cover for ducks until early spring, sending them to their northern breeding grounds in excellent condition.

If you have only one or two moist soil wetland units, early- and late- season benefits can be achieved by flooding the units gradually and in distinct stages. The water control structures recommended in this publication were selected to allow you to make precise water level changes.

Spring Drawdown

Drawdown benefits wildlife in three distinct ways. First, when mudflats are exposed in the spring, shorebirds of many kinds will be attracted to feed on invertebrates (Figure 7). When drawdown is started in April, shorebirds will use the wetlands on their way north. The second benefit of spring drainage can be the creation of excellent, patchy habitat for resident wildlife through the summer. Moist- soil units that contain islands and other irregularities provide superb nesting and rearing habitat for bobwhite quail, sparrows, wrens, rabbits, and deer as well as productive hunting grounds for diverse predators. The third general benefit from wetland drainage is the growth of plants through the summer that will provide food and cover for wildlife in the coming fall and winter. Just as for fall flooding, the timing of spring drainage is critical to achieving desired results.

Figure 7. Lush vegetation grown after spring drawdown in a moist-soil wetland.

There are two water drawdown strategies, rapid (in which surface water removal occurs within two to four days), and long- term (in which the drawdown occurs over a period of two weeks or more). A long- term gradual drawdown, beginning in early spring (April through mid- May) will promote plant species diversity. Both rapid and long- term drawdowns produce higher total seed production through the following summer and fall when initiated early. Rapid drawdowns initiated after July will promote undesirable species.

In the spring, drawdown can start with the arrival of migrating shorebirds that are attracted to mudflats. These include the lesser yellowlegs and spotted sandpipers. A gradual drawdown exposes new areas of mudflat each day. Spring drawdowns can have two phases. The first phase begins with the arrival of rails, herons, and swallows. During this phase, water depth should be lowered to 5 to 10 inches. Water should remain at this stage until germination and growth of plants begins on the exposed mudflats. At that time the remaining wetland should be gradually drained.

Controlling Severe Problems

As a wetland ages, water level changes alone will not prevent nuisance plant species. Succession will occur, and with advancing succession, undesirable species will invade. When a wetland reaches an age of four to seven years after restoration, more intensive control measures may be required. Mowing, disking, chopping, herbicide treatment, and burning all have their place. Mowing is most effective in late summer. Disking in summer or fall may control common reed and other undesirable species. Disking from winter to early spring is not recommended because it will actually cause denser stands of reed. Fire has varying effects, depending on its intensity; regardless of intensity, fire is most effective in late summer. Information on fire or smoke regulations and technical help is available from state forestry offices.

Vegetation on levees, ditch banks, and spillways should be controlled. Periodic mowing will encourage formation of dense, erosion- resistant grasses and grass root systems. Any damage to levees by burrowing animals should be repaired quickly. If nutria, muskrats, or beavers become a serious problem, trapping may be required. A wildlife depredation permit from the NCWRC is needed before muskrats may be trapped during the closed season. On areas of concentrated nutri, muskrat, or beaver damage, rock riprap can be added to discourage further activity.

Hunting Managed Wetlands

Managing hunting in your wetland area is critical to overall success. Carefully planned guidelines will result in excellent hunting and provide lasting benefits to the wildlife resource for those who would hunt or lease their hunting rights.

First, impose strict limits on hunting; rigorously obey or enforce all bag limits and other state and federal wildlife laws. For waterfowl, hunt wetlands no more than twice a week with rest days between hunting days. Waterfowling is best in the morning, so rule out afternoon hunting. Some conservationists try very hard to avoid shooting hen ducks, knowing that young hens are the most likely to come into decoys. Also, limit the number of hunters. If you have excellent hunting, chances are you will have to say "no" more often than "yes" to requests to hunt.

Second, manage the water levels in your wetlands to provide excellent habitat after the season is over. Late winter is when the birds need to improve their body condition to be at their maximum reproductive potential when they arrive at their breeding grounds. To enhance their body condition, gradually raise the water level in your wetlands through December. This late flooding will provide fresh vegetation and aquatic insects for waterfowl in the late winter. The insects ducks eat just before heading north provide necessary proteins and oils required for maximum reproductive performance. Many conservationists are surprised to learn that ducks will have mated and will be forming eggs before they reach their breeding grounds. Waterfowl biologists have confirmed that ample and high- quality nutrition on the wintering grounds is essential for top production of young ducks the following spring.

Third, avoid disturbing large, migratory flocks of Canada geese. Canada geese are attracted to farmed wetlands near fields of winter wheat or rye. If geese are disturbed too often, they will leave the area and not return.

When considering hunting wetlands, the bottom line is simply to give more than you take from our wildlife resources. The wetland owner has a special opportunity to help waterfowl populations recover from their decline of the past 25 years. Restored wetlands will contribute to an international effort in North America to recover from generations of wetland losses. However, significant benefits of created wetlands will be lost if these areas are hunted excessively. Managed hunting can provide both quality waterfowling and excellent habitat for ducks and geese on privately managed wetlands.


Restoring a prior converted wetland is an excellent opportunity for landowners in North Carolina and along the eastern seaboard to enhance wildlife populations. However, for the restoration to be successful, you must manage your wetland with care by taking advantage of the professional help available for site selection, construction, management, and maintenance. Many state, federal, and private agencies and foundations offer assistance - - both advice and funds - - to landowners who want to restore wetland areas. Wetland restoration, as with many conservation undertakings, involves high costs, plentiful opportunities, and equally plentiful rewards.


Agencies and Organizations

Federal, State, and Private Contacts

These are phone numbers and addresses of agencies and organizations that may be of assistance throughout the wetland restoration process. Contact the county offices in your area first. Numbers for county offices are located in your local phone book under government listings.

Federal Agencies

Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS)
4407 Bland Road, Suite 175
Raleigh, NC 27609
Conservation Programs (919) 790-2957
Wetland Reserve Program (919) 790-2968

Farmers Home Administration (FmHA)
District 1
400 Dellwood Rd.
Building E, Suite 1
Waynesville, NC 28786
(704) 452-0319

District 2
Suite 210
Oak Summit Office Park.
910 State Farm Rd.
Boone, NC 28607
(704) 262-5902

District 3
325 East 4th Street
Lumberton, NC 28358
(919) 739-8194

District 4
Wrightsville Bldg., Suite 202
2300 W. Meadowview Rd.
Greensboro, NC 27407
(919) 333-5770

District 5
630-A S. Garnett St.
Henderson, NC 27536
(919) 438-3141

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
4404 Bland Rd., Suite 205
Raleigh, NC 27609
(919) 790-2888

Water Quality Specialist (919) 790-2898

State Resource Conservationist (919) 790-2896

US Army Corps of Engineers (COE)
Raleigh Field Office
6512 Falls of the Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC 27615-6846
(919) 876-8441

US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
Raleigh Field Office
L. K. "Mike" Gantt, Supervisor
P.O. Box 33726
Raleigh, NC 27636
(919) 856-4520

State Agencies

North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Office of the Director
Campus Box 7602
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695
(919) 515-2811

Extension Wildlife, Department Extension Leader
Department of Zoology
Campus Box 7646
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-7646
(919) 515-7587

Extension Forestry, Department Extension Leader
Department of Forestry
Campus Box 8003
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-8003
(919) 515-5578

North Carolina Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources
(919) 733-7375

North Carolina Division of Coastal Management
PO Box 27687
225 N. McDowell St.
Raleigh, NC 27611-7687
(919) 733-2293

North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Commission
PO Box 27687
Raleigh, NC 27611-7687
(919) 733-2302

North Carolina Division of Forest Resources
PO Box 27687
Raleigh, NC 27611
(919) 733-2162

North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Division of Wildlife Management
512 N. Salisbury St., Archdale Building
Raleigh, NC 27604-1188
(919) 733-7291

Waterfowl Habitat Specialist
1005 Plymouth Dr.
New Bern, NC 28562
(919) 637-6920

Private Organizations

Ducks Unlimited
MARSH Program
1155 Connecticut Ave., N.W. #800
Washington, D.C. 20036
(202) 452-8824

MARSH Atlantic Flyway Coordinator
219 County Road
Bedford, NH 03102
(603) 626-7706

Assistance Programs

The following are brief summaries of federal, state, and private cost-share and technical assistance programs that your project may qualify for. If, after reading the summaries, you are not sure if your project qualifies, call the contact listed in Agencies and Organizations. The following programs were in force as of April 1994. Programs change each year.

Federal Assistance Programs

Agricultural Conservation Program


Description: Agreements are for one or more years. The landowner pays the total initial cost and is reimbursed for up to 75 percent of the total ($3,500 maximum per year). Long- term agree ments require the development of a conservation plan by the SCS. Lump sum payments in excess of $3,500 are allowed for long- term agreements.

Applies: The program is national.

Eligibility: The landowner must provide long- term, community- wide benefits. Funding is for practices the landowner could not undertake without assistance. The applicant must own between 10 and 1,000 acres.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

Contact: ASCS

Description: CRP encourages landowners to enroll highly erodible land or land contributing to water quality problems into reserve for 10 to 15 years (30 years for certain practices). The landowner is paid a rent for placing the land in permanent vegetative cover. The landowner must bid for acceptance into the program. Annual rental payments may not exceed $50,000. Up to a 50 percent cost share is paid by ASCS for the establishment of vegetation. The land may not be farmed during the contract period. Farmed wetlands that were once eligible under CRP are now eligible under the Wetlands Reserve Program.

Applies: The program is national.

Eligibility: Highly erodible land or prior converted wetland is eligible. The landowner must have owned the land at least three years before the end of the sign- up period. The lands must have been planted, or considered planted, to a commodity crop for two years during the period from 1986 to 1990.

Water Quality Incentives Program

Contact: ASCS

Description:The program is designed to protect water sources on farmland through three- to five- year agreements with ASCS. The project must provide water quality benefits and possibly provide additional wetland protection and wildlife benefits. ASCS provides costsharing, technical assistance, and annual incentive pay ments. Enrollees must report accurately on wastes and chemical uses on the enrolled acreage. Crop production can continue on the land.

Applies:The program is limited to areas designated nated demonstration or special project areas within each state.

Eligibility:Land must lie within a project area and be considered a priority by ASCS.

Wetlands Reserve Program

Contact: ASCS

Description: This program is exclusively applicable to wetlands. ASCS negotiates conservation easements and provides cost- sharing for landowners accepted into the program. Standard easement agreements are permanent. Landowners file an application through local ASCS offices and, within 90 days of application, submit a management plan approved by the SCS and the USFWS. Landowners receive either 10 equal, annual payments or one lump sum when the project is complete. Technical assistance and cost- sharing is available. Use of the land after the easement is contracted must not degrade or diminish the wetland values of the land.

Applies: Depending on federal appropriations, this program should apply nationally.

Eligibility: Prior converted wetlands are eligible if participants agree to a long- term contract and if the lands were crop- producing at least once from 1986 to 1990.

Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) Wetlands- related Programs

Contact: FmHA

Description: This program allows reduction of borrower debt in exchange for granting conservation tion easements on wetlands for a minimum of 50 years. Wetlands placed under the easements are managed by the USFWS. If the easement value purchase will create a positive cash flow and remove the delinquent borrower from default status, FmHA will buy the easement and reduce the borrower's debt by the value of the wetland acres. If positive cash flow is not generated, FmHA cannot purchase the easement. Farmers who are current (not delinquent) can reduce their debt by a maximum of 33 percent by placing portions of their land under easement. The reduction value is determined by the average per- acre value of the entire property.

Applies: The program is national.

Eligibility: The landowner must have borrowed from the FmHA.

North American Wetlands Conservation Act

Contacts: USFWS

Description: The program is designed to promote cooperation among agencies and other interests. The NAWCA provides funding for wetlands acquisition, restoration, or enhancement. Funding is approved by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) on the basis of recommendations from the North American Wetlands Conservation Council. The USFWS coordinates with NAWCA and offers assistance to landowners in the development of proposals for review by the council and MBCC. Proposals are accepted during two time periods: before April 1 and before August 1, for funding available October 1. Grant application instruction booklets and assistance are available from USFWS. Grants require at least one- to- one matching funds from the applying state, private group, or landowner. Annual lease payments require 10- year contracts. Demonstration tion projects require a minimum 5- year agreement. Areas of special concern are prioritized.

Applies: The program is national.

Eligibility: Priority projects involving acquisition, restoration, enhancement, creation, management, and other wetland conservation practices are eligible.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan Joint Venture Projects

Contacts:USFWS, Atlantic Coast Joint Venture Coordinator

Description: The project is an agreement between the United States and Canada to protect, restore, or enhance wetlands important to waterfowl. The USFWS coordinates joint ventures with federal, state, and private agencies and individuals that cooperate and combine resources to accomplish wetlands conservation work.

Applies: Joint ventures are categorized by region. In the East, the Atlantic coast from Maine to South Carolina is a targeted area.

Eligibility: Any landowner with property judged by wildlife biologists to be highly significant to waterfowl and other wetland dependent species.

Private Lands Assistance and Restoration Program (Partners for Wildlife)

Contact: USFWS

Description: Partners for Wildlife offers financial and technical assistance to landowners wishing to restore converted or degraded wetlands. Partners for Wildlife combines the services of many different agencies and private organizations to achieve management objectives. Priority is given to projects that (1) contribute to the survival of endangered, threatened, or candidate species or migratory birds of concern, (2) contribute to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, (3) help prevent habitat fragmentation, (4) promote reestablishment of native plant and animal communities, (5) contribute to restoration of nationally imperiled communities, and (6) result in a self- sustaining system that uses native, self- propagating species. The USFWS may assist in plugging drainage ditches, installing water control structures, constructing levees, and revegetating the land. Agreements are for 10 years or longer. Agricultural activities involving disturbance of the soil are prohibited.

Applies: The project is national.

Eligibility: Projects are prioritized and accepted by USFWS according to the above criteria.

Forest Stewardship Program (FSP) and Stewardship Incentives Program (SIP)

Contact: North Carolina Division of Forest Resources

Description: The program was created by the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 for enhancement of forested lands and associated wetlands. The FSP provides technical assistance and the SIP provides cost- share assistance. Both programs are administered by state foresters in conjunction with the USFS. Foresters work with landowners to develop a comprehensive multi- use plan. Up to 65 percent of funding is provided by SIP once a plan has been approved. Payments may not exceed $10,000 per year per landowner. Agreements are for a minimum of 10 years.

Applies: The program is national within specified counties in each state. In North Carolina all counties are eligible.

Eligibility: To be eligible, the landowner must have an approved forest stewardship plan and own 1,000 acres or less (certain exceptions to 5,000 acres) of qualified land.

Soil Conservation Service (SCS) Technical Assistance

Contact: USDA and SCS

Description: This technical branch of the USDA provides technical assistance for wetlands determination, protection, and management programs; developing conservation plans; providing alternative income for use and management of wetlands; developing wetlands projects, including the design and implementation of project plans for restoration, creation, or enhancement; providing information on planting; and providing soil surveys. Landowners should contact their local SCS office and request assistance.

Applies: The program is national in all counties.

Eligibility:To be eligible, landowners must reach agreements with local soil and water conservation districts.

Soil Conservation Service Financial Assistance

Contact: SCS

Description: Through the authority of the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program of 1954, the SCS offers assistance to communities for watershed protection and improvement of fish and wildlife resources. The SCS offers technical assistance and cost sharing for construction, wetlands protection, floodplain management, and wildlife development.

Applies: The program is national.

Eligibility:Most lands are eligible for some type of assistance. Certain programs have regional application.

State Assistance Programs

Agricultural Cost- Share Program

Contact: North Carolina Soil and Water Conservation Commission of the Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources and the Soil and Water Conservation District Office

Description: This program helps landowners improve their farm management by using best management practices (BMPs). These include vegetative, structural, and management systems used to reduce pollutants entering surface waters from farming activities. The landowner is reimbursed 75 percent of the average cost of implementing each BMP. The 25 percent landowner share can include existing materials and labor.

Applies: The program applies statewide.

Eligibility: All farmlands in the state may be eligible.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

Contact: North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service through Extension Centers in each county

Description: North Carolina's Cooperative Extension Service provides research- based information to assist landowners and organizations. The county Extension agents are aided by staff members of North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University. These universities have expertise in the fields of conservation, wildlife, forestry, agricultural production, and economics.

Applies: The program applies statewide.

Eligibility: Any individual or organization is eligible.

North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Contact: NCWRC Division of Wildlife Management

Description: The NCWRC offers technical assistance in many areas of wildlife management, including wetlands restoration and habitat improvement. The NCWRC helps manage both state and private lands. District biologists help landowners implement many federal conservation programs as well as state and private programs. Tax incentives are available for landowners wishing to enroll lands in the NCWRC Wildlife Conservation Areas program. These lands will be managed by the Commission primarily for educational purposes. Recreational uses of the land such as hunting, trapping, and fishing will be allowed where appropriate, but the lands will not be managed specifically for these activities.

Applies:The program applies statewide.

Eligibility: State residents or landowners are eligible.

Private Nonprofit Assistance Programs

The Matching Aid Restore States Habitat (MARSH) Program

Contact: Ducks Unlimited (Atlantic Flyway Coordinator)

Description: The MARSH program began in 1985. It provides matching funds to public agencies and private organizations for projects designed to benefit waterfowl. Project proposals must be submitted to the regional flyway coordinator for approval. Sites will be visited by the coordinator and prioritized according to potential waterfowl benefits. Maximum cost share is 50 percent up to $25,000. The program focuses on cooperators and organizations willing to provide long- term habitat benefits.

Applies: The program is national.

Eligibility: Lands must be under the complete control of the applying parties. All agencies or cooperators involved must meet the above criteria.

Additional Information

The following publications provide current information on wetlands and wetland restoration or creation. Many can be found in your local public or university libraries. If unavailable there, a bookstore may be able to order them for you. If further information is desired, consult the hundreds of references cited in the books listed below.

Frederickson, L. H., and T. S. Taylor. 1982. Management of Seasonally Flooded Impoundments for Wildlife. Resources publication No. 148. Washington, DC: US Dept. of the Interior. 29 pp.

Hammer, D. A. 1992. Creating Freshwater Wetlands. Chelsea, MI: Lewis Publishers. 298 pp.

Hook, D. D., W. H. McKee, Jr., H. K. Smith, J. Gregory, V. G. Burrell, Jr., M. R. DeVoe, R. E. Sajka, S. Gilbert, R. Banks, L. H. Stolzy, C. Brooks, T. D. Mathews, and T. H. Shear, eds. 1988. The Ecology and Management of Wetlands. Vol. 2. Portland, OR: Timber Press. 394 pp.

Kusler, J. A., and M. E. Kentula, eds. 1990. Wetland Creation and Restoration: The Status of the Science. Washington DC: Island Press. 594 pp.

Payne, N. F. 1992. Techniques for Wildlife Habitat Management of Wetlands. New York, NY: McGraw- Hill. 549 pp.


Funding for this publication was provided by the Office of Training and Education and the Division of Refuge Management of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The authors thank the following people for their professional opinions and support: Steve Brown, Jim Dean, Carlyle Franklin, Bill Keirn, Duncan MacDonald, Rich Noble, Dan Stiles, Bonnie Strawser, Bobby Swineford, and Pete Trexler.

Wetlands Definitions

Most of the terms included in this glossary appear in this booklet. However, a few of these terms are included to assist the landowner in dealing with wetland management agencies or professionals.

Aquifer. A body of water that lies beneath the soil surface.

Borrow area. Often referred to as borrow pits, borrow areas are places where soil material, particularly subsurface clays, are removed and used for construction of roads, levees, dams, or islands. Soil is "borrowed" from one area and used in another. Often borrow areas are on the flooded sides of levees where they serve as drainage ditches during drawdown.

Diversity. Variety. In wetlands, diversity has several applications: shoreline diversity - variable contour and vegetation; species diversity refers to the variation in animal and plant species attracted to a wetland; water depth diversity refers to variation in depth. A wetland at full pond can be designed to provide many different water depths using islands and other variations in bottom elevation.

Drawdown. Reducing wetland water level. Drawdown can be complete or partial, rapid or gradual, and natural or induced.

Freeboard. The difference between the height of water at full pond capacity and the top of the levee, measured vertically from the top of the water to the plane of the levee top.

Full pond. The water level when a wetland is fully flooded for wildlife use.

Habitat. A place providing wildlife food, cover, and areas for resting and reproducing. Habitat features include water quality, water depth, shoreline configuration, slope of islands, and type and structure of vegetation. Each species has its own habitat requirements.

Hydric soil. A soil that developed under moist or wet conditions.

Hydrology. All aspects of site water conditions,including inflow, precipitation, evapotranspiration, outflow, and ground water table.

Hydrophyte. A plant that normally grows in wetlands and is particularly adapted to hydric soils.

Levee. A water retention structure. Generally constructed of earthen material, levees are usually fairly low. Levees do not block the flow of a river or stream like a dam, but they do control raised water levels produced by damming, ditch plugging, or natural flooding. Levees also direct the flow of moving water.

Moist-soil management. Timing drawdown of water in a wetland to expose the soil and encourage the growth of native vegetation.

Permeability. The ability of water to move through the soil. Permeable soils allow water to pass easily. Impermeable soils retard or obstruct water flow or filtration.

Prior converted wetlands. Wetlands that were drained, filled, or altered to produce a commodity crop in at least one year out of five before December 23, 1985.

Restoration. Returning a prior converted wetland to, or close to, its original condition and function.

Riprap. Large rocks on a dam or levee used to prevent erosion by waves.

Seedbank. The existing seeds, tubers, or bulbs in the soil that are awaiting suitable conditions for germination or growth. The more recent the conversion from a wetland to cropland, the higher the likelihood of a viable seedbank of wetland plants.

Succession. The gradual, natural changes in plant and animal associations that occur through time, usually over years or decades. Plant species' composition and structure change as the wetland ages. Generally, the water depth and the amount of open water will decrease over the years. Succession can be managed to create habitat conditions for desired animal and plant species.

Topography. Physical terrain features of an area; the lay of the land. Topography is important to wetland design and influences water rate flows.

Transition zone. Where soil and vegetative conditions change from wetland to upland. An area that is not truly either upland or wetland. The zone may be flooded periodically but usually for a short duration; it is generally dry.

Watershed. The land region supplying water to a river, river system, or body of water. When precipitation falls, watershed runoff supplies the system with water.

Prepared by

K. Marc Puckett, Wildlife Graduate Research Assistant, Department of Zoology
Peter T. Bromley, Extension Wildlife Specialist, Department of Zoology
Tom D. Monschein, Waterfowl Habitat Specialist, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
Edwin J. Jones, Extension Wildlife Specialist, Department of Forestry
Thomas M. Losordo, Extension Aquaculture Specialist, Department of Zoology
Robert E. Noffsinger, Waterfowl Management Specialist, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Graphic Artist: Karl E. Larson

Illustrator: Nickola Dudley

Published by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service

Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Employment and program opportunities are offered to all people regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability. North Carolina State University, North carolina A&T State University, US Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.



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