By Jim Schrenkel, Wildlife Biologist

WR-what? As with all governmental agencies, acronyms abound. WRP stands for the Wetland Reserve Program administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). Before discussing the many wildlife benefits, a general understanding of the program will be helpful.

The WRP should actually be called the Wetland “Restoration” Program. The WRP is a voluntary program providing technical and financial assistance to landowners interested in restoring converted croplands and pastures back to wetlands. In a nutshell, it is restoring historic wetlands, cleared by people many years ago for agricultural purposes, back into functioning wetlands as Mother Nature originally intended. Wetlands have many benefits to people as well as wildlife. Water quality is improved through natural water filtration. Ground water is recharged. Flood risks are reduced by storing flood water. Wetlands are aesthetically pleasing. Finally, quality wildlife habitat is created.

From the bottom of the food chain all the way to the top, a host of plant and animal life is supported by wetlands. Microscopic zooplankton are fed on by insect larvae and nymphs, which in turn are fed on by fish, reptiles and amphibians, which in turn are fed on by predatory animals such as eagles, mink, raccoons, etc. Wetlands provide food and cover for many other mammals such as beaver, otter, deer, rabbits and squirrels. Wetlands are probably most noted for the essential habitat they provide to many migratory birds and numerous threatened and endangered species.

Wetlands are extremely important for migratory waterfowl as well as wading birds and Neotropical migratory birds. They use wetlands for all or part of their life needs such as breeding, nesting, feeding and resting. In Alabama, wetlands are essential for migratory birds for feeding and resting during migration. Actually, one-third of all bird species in the United States require wetlands for one or more of their life requirements.
Another wildlife benefit of wetlands is with threatened and endangered species. In the United States, more than one-third of threatened and endangered species live only in wetlands while one-half of these species use wetlands for at least one of their life requirements. This is very important since wetlands only occupy five percent of the land area on the whole earth. Since 1900, 50 percent of the worlds’ wetlands have been destroyed.
Wetlands appear in many different habitat types. Seasonally flooded bottomland hardwoods are the predominant wetland types in Alabama. They are characterized by trees, shrubs, herbaceous plants and grasses that can withstand flooding of various times and durations. These areas provide excellent food and cover for many wildlife species. Moist soil wetlands are open areas predominately composed of grasses that provide many high quality seeds for wildlife. Emergent marshes are areas of deeper water (3 to 6 feet) containing vegetation rooted in the soil that emerges above the water. These areas provide habitat for many snails and mussels that in turn provide food for many species of wildlife. Shrub/scrub swamps have water during the growing season and are characterized by shrubs such as willows and button bush. These areas provide valuable thermal cover areas as well as excellent feeding opportunities.

Since wetlands are so diverse, they provide food, water and cover requirements necessary for many species of wildlife as well as people. This gives a whole new meaning to “what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander,” no pun intended.