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Back to the Future

Suppose, for a moment, that you've inherited some property, a few dozen acres of what was once probably wetlands. At some later date the owners must have drained the land so that crops could be planted there. You have no interest in farming, though. Better if the land were returned to its original state. But such an undertaking would require expertise you don't possess and more money than you can spare.

Rather than simply leave the land untended, there's another solution. It's called the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (PFWP), and it's run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Started in 1987, the PFWP offers assistance to private citizens who want to restore wetlands and other natural habitats on their land. The land may have been used to grow crops or graze livestock. It may have been logged extensively or mined. Whatever the use or uses, the PFWP will provide technical and financial aid and enlist the help of other groups in the effort. These partners include state and local government agencies, tribes, conservation organizations, academic institutions, and businesses.

The exact nature of the PFWP's involvement depends on the project. In some cases, the PFWP merely offers advice on a restoration project. At the other extreme, the PFWP and its partners will design and fund the project, though when this occurs the landowner must agree to maintain the restored habitat for at least ten years.

The techniques used to return land to its natural state are similarly varied. Restoring a freshwater wetland, for example, may require blocking drainage ditches, breaking tile drains, and reintroducing natural stream bends. Upland restoration, by contrast, often means seeding or planting native grasses. In addition, habitats can be restored to help specific fish and wildlife species survive, especially endangered species.

Since the PFWP first started, more than 21,500 landowners across the nation have taken part, which translates into 464,000 acres of restored wetlands, 447,000 acres of restored uplands, and 2,700 miles of restored aquatic habitat. Best of all, the program continues to grow.