Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced that USDA is contributing $10.7 million to help restore a vast area of Illinois wetlands through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and a partnership between the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and The Nature Conservancy (Conservancy). WRP is a voluntary conservation program that offers landowners the opportunity to protect, restore and enhance wetlands on their property.

"This unique project with the Conservancy is a prime example of President Bush's cooperative conservation initiative that is needed to continue achieving our national conservation objectives," Johanns said. "It will restore diverse plant and animal communities in the wetlands and improve water quality in the watershed. This partnership project will help achieve the President's goal to restore, improve and protect at least 3 million acres of wetlands."

Called the Emiquon Project, this 7,000-acre tract of land along the Illinois River in Fulton County is one of the largest floodplain restoration projects in the country. The WRP project will restore approximately 6,400 acres of wetlands. USDA funds will be used for easements, restoration activities and administrative costs. NRCS will develop a restoration plan in collaboration with the Conservancy as well as monitor and manage the site for the next 30 years.

A national memorandum of understanding between NRCS and the Conservancy formalizes the working partnership and establishes a framework to collaborate on mutually-agreed upon activities, such as Illinois' Emiquon Project and other natural resource related initiatives across the country. Primary purposes of the agreement are to protect or restore plants, animals and natural communities on private lands; promote the gathering and sharing of scientific data and research; and foster demonstration projects to test promising new conservation approaches.