USDA has begun the sign-up for a Conservation Reserve Program initiative to help farmers restore up to 500,000 acres of floodplains by planting bottomland hardwood trees on private lands.

Sign-up for the program, authorized in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, was announced by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman during a visit by Deputy Secretary James Moseley during a visit to south Mississippi.

“This is an unprecedented opportunity to help improve our environment through the sequestration of over one million metric tons of greenhouse gases,” said Veneman, describing one of the effects of expanding hardwood forests. “This initiative will help restore critical wildlife habitat, while improving water quality and reducing the impacts of floods.”

“States are allocated specific amounts of acreage based on their pro-rata share of eligible acreage to ensure nationwide protection of vital floodplains,” said James Moseley, speaking during a visit to Riva Ridge Farm in Natchez.

“While farmers and ranchers within most states may be eligible, the initiative is targeted toward areas in the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River valleys and the southern coastal plain.”

Bottomland hardwoods are streamside forest trees, including oak, maple, ash, cypress and tupelo. These trees grow generally on lands that are periodically flooded. The initiative will protect against future flood damage by slowing the flow of water and shoring up soil. Each enrolled site will be restored to an ecologically diverse forest type.

Eligible land must be located within a 100-year floodplain, comprised of primarily wetland soils and adjacent to permanent rivers and streams.

States are allocated specific amounts of acreage based on their pro-rata share of eligible acreage, which will ensure nationwide protection of vital floodplains. While farmers and ranchers within most states may be eligible, the initiative is especially targeted toward states in the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio River valleys and the southern coastal plain. In the Mid-South, Arkansas will be allocated 20,000 acres; Louisiana, 30,000; Mississippi, 50,000; Missouri, 75,000; and Tennessee, 23,000.

Program participants will receive 50 percent of the cost to establish the trees, an annual rental payment for 14 to 15 years, and technical assistance to plant the trees. Participants will also retain their right to sell or market their carbon-sequestered gains (often referred to as credits) that are produced from bottomland hardwoods, or other environmental credits, to energy companies or whomever they choose.

Sign-up for the hardwood tree initiative is on a continuous basis, meaning eligible land may be enrolled at any time beginning Dec. 1 at local Farm Service Agency offices.

Additional information on the tree initiative and other CRP programs is available on FSA's Web site at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/dafp/cepd/crpinfo.htm.