NB_300_21_36 - NB 300-21-36 LTP - Solicitation for Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) Project Proposals for Fiscal Year 2022
NB 300-21-36 LTP - Solicitation for Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) Project Proposals for Fiscal Year 2022
National Bulletin:   NB 300-21-36    Date:   June 29, 2021  
Subject: LTP - Solicitation for Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) Project Proposals for Fiscal Year 2022  


 
Purpose.   To provide information regarding Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) funding opportunity and proposal submittal process for fiscal year (FY) 2022.       
 
Expiration Date.   September 30, 2022   
 

Background.   Through WREP, a component of Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)- Wetland Reserve Easements (WRE), NRCS enters into agreements with eligible partners to target and leverage resources to carry out high-priority wetland protection, restoration, and enhancement activities on eligible lands. Only States and local units of government, Indian Tribes, and non- governmental organizations are eligible to submit WREP proposals and enter into agreements with NRCS. WREP partners are required to contribute a financial or technical assistance match and must comply with applicable Dun & Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) and System for Award Management (SAM) requirements. All individual agreements or contracts funded under the framework of a WREP agreement must meet all ACEP-WRE eligibility and program requirements and all transactions will be processed through required agreement and contract procedures.

NRCS has implemented significant changes to WREP proposal options and requirements for FY 2022. There will be a State Easement Staff WREP Workshop held on July 1, 2021, and a Partner WREP Proposal Workshop held on July 15, 2021, to discuss these changes and the options available in FY 2022. These sessions will be recorded and made available to NRCS staff and partners. Easement Programs Division (EPD) will provide details on how to join prior to the scheduled workshops.
         

 

Explanation.   In FY 2022, in addition to a national WREP announcement of sign-up, State Conservationists and Area Directors (STCs) are responsible for advertising the opportunity for eligible partners to submit WREP proposals within their respective States. Potential partners may submit WREP proposals for an individual landowner project, a group of landowner projects, or for specific wetland and habitat types within a watershed or geographic area. STCs may provide input and feedback to partners as they develop their final proposals. Individual landowners may not submit WREP proposals through this submission process.

This year’s WREP signup focus is on enrolling Historically Underserved (HU) landowners.

The STC will review the final proposals submitted by the proposal deadline and conduct an initial evaluation based on the criteria provided in this bulletin and Attachment C “Announcement of Funding, Proposal Requirements, and Review Criteria.” Following State review, STCs will submit proposals recommended for funding to the WREP Program Manager via email by August 30, 2021. The Chief will make final proposal selections and funding determinations and EPD will notify the STC. The STC will then work with the partner to develop and enter into the WREP agreement as described in this bulletin.

Interested landowners within the approved WREP agreement area must complete and submit ACEP- WRE applications to NRCS for enrollment consideration and eligible applications must be evaluated and ranked.

 New to 2022:

Proposals must be limited to $5 million dollars.

• If proposal receives points for any ranking criteria which requires positive actions by the partner, then each of those criteria must be met and documented in the annual report.

• Partners should explain outreach and support plans in detail to ensure maximum points.

• If over 50 percent of all applications result in enrollments from HU landowners, the project will have been determined to exceed expectations and will be eligible for up to 10 percent in supplementary “bonus” funds being made available to the proposal area for additional HU landowner enrollments in the following fiscal year. If a project is multistate in scope this goal must be met on a State by State basis, for example if three States are in project area and only one State exceeds goal, only that State will receive bonus funding.

• All performance related items will be clearly defined in the Program Agreement and agreed to by both parties.

• Partners will be required to submit an annual report to the lead NRCS State contact and EPD describing all accomplishments. Failure to submit an annual report within 30 days of the end of the FY (September 30) could impact future funding.

FY 2022 WREP Funding Options and Match Requirements. In FY 2022, NRCS will make up to $17 million available for WREP projects that will result in new enrollments of eligible land under a permanent easement, 30-year easement, or 30-year contract on acreage owned by Indian Tribes. Priority will again be given for proposals that provide support pre- and post-acquisition activities and/or assistance with the planning and implementation of restoration for new enrollments associated with funded WREP proposals. Proposals are limited to $5 million per project. In addition, priority will be given to proposals that include significant and detailed outreach and support plans to encourage enrollment of HU landowners.

Proposal budgets must include a breakdown of project activities, the estimated costs, and the type of costs as either financial assistance (FA) or technical assistance (TA). The proposal should indicate the specific partner contributions, which may be cash, in-kind, or a combination of the two, for the following items:

FA costs for acquisition of the easement or 30-year contract, which will be provided directly to the eligible landowner through appropriate agreements. FA funds for acquisition and restoration may only be provided by NRCS.

FA costs for easement acquisition related cost items, which include appraisals, legal boundary surveys, due diligence costs for environmental record searches and title searches, title work, and closing costs. FA funds for easement acquisition related cost items may be provided by NRCS or as a cash contribution from the partner.

TA costs for performance of enrollment, due diligence, acquisition support, planning, and restoration activities. These activities may include, but are not limited to, assisting with obtaining, reviewing, and summarizing title or environmental search products; assisting NRCS staff in evaluating and documenting land eligibility; and planning and/or design of the ACEP-WRE project restoration in accordance with NRCS planning procedures and practice standards and specifications.

Partner contributions must equal at least 10 percent of the total estimated FA costs for easement acquisition related costs and restoration implementation costs.

WREP proposals must include a schedule that clearly demonstrates how all the requested NRCS funds will be obligated before the end of FY 2025. NRCS FA funds are not obligated to the WREP agreement itself, therefore the WREP agreement will identify the amount of funding that NRCS intends to make available over the life of the WREP agreement but that the provision of such funding is not guaranteed. The terms of the WREP agreement will identify that NRCS reserves the right and authority to reduce or discontinue project benefits to support the WREP agreement based upon funds availability, changes in agency priorities, or inability of partner to deliver resources or provisions of this agreement.

Only agreements or contracts to which NRCS funds are directly obligated, including properly executed, valid agreements to purchase, easement restoration agreements, WREP Program Agreements, Cooperative Agreements, or Federal Contracts, are assured funding for the duration of such agreement or contract. All funding beyond amounts obligated to such agreements or contract in FY 2022 is subject to change based on availability of funds and the ability of the partner to meet agreement deliverables.

Soliciting Proposals. STCs must announce the availability of this WREP opportunity on the State NRCS website and may also announce through State technical committee meetings or other appropriate avenues for advertisement. To assist States in advertising and soliciting proposals for WREP, Farm Production and Conservation Business Center External Affairs Division will provide a toolkit to State Public Affairs Specialists to help with promotion in the States.

Questions regarding WREP communications may be directed to Justin Fritscher at justin.fritscher@usda.gov. A national announcement will be made through a press release by NRCS National Headquarters (NHQ). Before posting the announcement or providing to partners, STCs must insert appropriate contact information for proposals and other relevant State information. Additionally, the national ACEP website is being updated with links to the FY 2021 WREP announcement, additional information on proposal requirements, and State contact information. States with partners interested in participating in WREP may determine how best to coordinate with those partners in the development of proposals. Partners are encouraged to include plans to conduct outreach to HU landowners to ensure awareness of the enrollment opportunities under an approved WREP project.

Proposal Requirements. Proposals must adhere to the format and address all criteria outlined in this bulletin and attached announcement. Specifics on proposal format and content are outlined in the “Proposal Requirements” section of the announcement. STCs must review submitted proposals to ensure all requirements are met prior to submitting recommended proposals to EPD. Only complete proposals submitted by the announced deadline will be considered received by the agency and eligible for consideration. STCs may recommend more than one proposal for funding consideration.

Proposal Submission and Notification. Partners must submit complete proposals to the appropriate State contact by August 15, 2021. States must add appropriate contact information to Attachment C prior to sending to partners or posting to website. Depending upon available funding and agency priorities, NRCS may offer less financial or technical assistance funds than were requested and may require adjustments to the proposal as a condition of recommendation or approval to meet program or other requirements. STCs will review proposals based on the State and national review criteria outlined in this bulletin and the attached announcement.

EPD will notify STCs of selections made by the Chief on or around October 15, 2021, and the STCs will provide an official letter of notification to selected partners on or around October 20, 2021.

Incomplete proposals or those that do not meet the requirements set forth in this bulletin and announcement will not be considered and STCs must notify the partner if this occurs. STCs must provide written notification to partners whose proposals are not selected. Partner proposals may be withdrawn by written notice to the appropriate STC at any time prior to selection.

State Review and Submission of Proposals. STCs must evaluate submitted proposals to address each the following:

• Potential duplication of efforts with other projects or existing programs

• Adherence to, and consistency with, program regulation, including requirements related to land and landowner eligibility and other program requirements

• Expected benefits of project implementation in their State, specifically to HU Landowners

• Other issues or concerns of which the STC is aware that should be considered

• General recommendation for approval of the project

If a project is multistate in scope, the State in which the majority of the project area is located will be the lead State responsible for reviewing the proposal and submitting recommendations to EPD. The lead State will ensure that the other affected States are fully informed of the proposals and provided an opportunity for input.

National Review and Selection of Proposals. Once STCs have conducted their reviews, all recommended proposals with any updates must be electronically submitted to EPD by email to the WREP Program Manager. EPD will obtain input from a multidisciplinary team and evaluate submitted proposals using a competitive process, using Attachment A “WREP FY 2021 Evaluation Form”. Evaluation categories include: Partnership Contributions, Furthers the Goals and Objectives of NRCS Landscape Conservation Initiatives, Targeted Outreach Efforts to Underserved Groups, and Identifies Resource Outcomes. The Deputy Chief for Programs will submit State recommendations and national ranking results and recommendations to the Chief for review and final selection.

WREP Program Agreement. Upon proposal selection, NRCS will enter into a WREP Program Agreement with the partner. States with selected proposals will be provided additional guidance on developing WREP agreements with partners at that time. At a minimum, WREP agreements will include the following:

• Role of the partner

• Role of NRCS

• Format and frequency of reports that are required as a condition of the agreement

• Plan of work and budget to identify other funding sources (if applicable) for financial or technical assistance

• Specified project schedule and timeframe

• Types of agreements or contracts that will be utilized to obligate NRCS funds to support the WREP agreement. Technical Assistance funds may be obligated directly to the partner through the Program Agreement. Financial Assistance funds will be obligated by NRCS through the standard obligation mechanisms for enrolling, acquiring, and restoring easements.

• Use of 30-year contracts for acreage owned by Indian Tribes only, 30-year easements with private landowners or Indian Tribes (including native corporations), or permanent easements with private landowners or Indian Tribes (including native corporations)

• Other requirements deemed necessary by NRCS to achieve purposes of the ACEP-WRE.

Eligibility Requirements. All applications for enrollment selected for funding through WREP must meet all ACEP-WRE eligibility and program requirements and all transactions will be processed through standard acquisition, contracting, and agreement procedures at set forth in Title 440 Conservation Program Manual, Parts 528 and 527. STCs will ensure that wetland restoration and enhancement activities are designed to maximize wildlife habitat benefits and wetland values and functions, in accordance with the ACEP-WRE regulation (7 CFR Part 1468), policy, and NRCS standards and specifications. Additionally, the successful restoration of land and the resultant wetland values must take into consideration the cost of such restoration, as required by 7 CFR Part 1468. Proposals must conform to the ACEP-WRE guidelines for restoration and management of lands subject to an ACEP-WRE easement.

 
Contact.   For further information, contact Lisa McCauley, WREP Program Manager, by phone at (202) 494-5716 or email at lisa.mccauley@usda.gov.     
 
 

 /s/

  JIMMY BRAMBLETT   
  Deputy Chief for Programs   

 
 

 Attachment A – WREP FY 2022 Evaluation Form

 Attachment B – WREP FY 2022 Timeline Targets

 Attachment C – WREP FY 2022 Announcement of Funding Proposal Requirements and Review Criteria

 Attachment D – FY 2021 NRCS Landscape Conservation Initiatives     

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