NB_300_22_51 - NB 300-22-51 LTP-Solicitation for Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) Project Proposals for Fiscal Year 2023
NB 300-22-51 LTP-Solicitation for Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) Project Proposals for Fiscal Year 2023
National Bulletin: 300-22-51
Date: July 26, 2022 
Subject: LTP-Solicitation for Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) Project Proposals for Fiscal Year 2023

Purpose.  To provide information regarding Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP) funding opportunity and proposal submittal process for fiscal year (FY) 2023.     
Expiration Date.  September 30, 2023 
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 and System for Award Management requirements.
Explanation.  In addition to a national WREP announcement of FY 2023 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.

There will be a Partner WREP Proposal Workshop held on August 17, 2022, to discuss WREP participation in FY 2023. This session will be recorded and made available to NRCS staff and partners. Partners interested in attending this workshop, please e-mail Lisa McCauley at lisa.mccauley@usda.gov.  This session will be recorded, and the recording will be made available on the National WREP Website after the session has concluded.
In FY 2023 WREP will continue to focus on enrolling historically underserved (HU) landowners. HU landowners are defined on the NRCS website at  https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/people/outreach/slbfr/ 

Review the following attachments for further guidance:
• Attachment A - WREP FY 2023 Announcement of Funding Proposal Requirements and Review Criteria
• Attachment B - WREP FY 2023 Timeline Targets
• Attachment C - WREP FY 2023 Evaluation Form
• Attachment D – WREP FY 2023 Proposal Template

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.

FY 2023.
• Proposals are limited to $5 million dollars in requested NRCS contribution.
• Agreements are limited to three years
• 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.
• For projects that include new enrollments, the target should be a minimum of 50 percent of all funded new enrollments should be from HU landowners. Proposals should focus on strategies to ensure robust outreach to these groups using a variety of techniques to be successful.
• 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 Easement Programs Division (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 2023 WREP Funding Options, Match Requirements and Performance Targets. In FY 2023, NRCS will make up to $20 million in WREP funds available. Proposals must be limited to $5 million dollars of NRCS funding. Proposal budgets should include a breakdown of project activities and indicate whether the source of funds is NRCS Financial Assistance (FA), NRCS Technical Assistance (TA) or partner contributions towards FA or TA. Funds may be obligated with partners as soon as agreements are signed (if cost-share contracts are a component of the Program Agreement) and with individual landowners for WRE acquisition. All funds not obligated by the end of FY 2023 are not guaranteed.

For all proposals, partners must provide a 10 percent cash match towards easement acquisition due diligence costs or actual easement restoration costs. Match may be a combination of cash or in-kind.

• Partner contributions cannot be used towards actual easement acquisition (easement purchase).
• Funds to be used for outreach activities completed under this agreement are limited to no more than 15 percent of the overall partner contribution and must be identified as TA match.

NRCS will make funds available for agreements that will result in new enrollments of eligible land under a permanent easement, a 30-year easement, or a 30-year contract on acreage owned by Indian Tribes.

FA funds for acquisition will be provided directly to the eligible landowner(s) through an appropriate enrollment agreement
FA funds for easement acquisition due diligence costs or actual restoration costs may be obligated to a project partner through a WREP Program Agreement, or to landowners, vendors, or other partners through standard obligation processes.
TA funds for performance of enrollment, due diligence, acquisition support, planning, and restoration activities may also be obligated to a project partner through a WREP Program Agreement. 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; planning of the ACEP-WRE project restoration in accordance with NRCS planning procedures and practice standards and specifications; and design of the 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 and budget that clearly demonstrates how all the requested NRCS funds plan to be obligated before the end of FY 2025 including the method of obligation. 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, funds proposed for obligation beyond the initial project year are subject to fund availability and 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 contracts in FY 2023 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 2023 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 utilize attachment D - WREP FY 2023 Proposal Template and address all criteria contained in the template.

Proposal Submission and Notification. Partners must submit complete proposals to the appropriate State contact by September 23, 2022. States must add appropriate contact information to attachment A 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.

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 to determine all proposal requirements are met as outlined in this bulletin and the attachments. 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.

States should not complete the Evaluation Form; this will be completed by a multi-disciplinary team at NHQ. Following State review, STCs will submit all proposals to EPD to the WREP Program Manager via email by September 30, 2022. 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.

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 National Program Manager for EPD review. Once reviews are complete recommendations will be made to the Deputy Chief for Programs who will in turn submit State recommendations and national ranking results and recommendations to the Chief for review and final selection.

EPD will notify STCs of selections made by the Chief early in FY 2023, and the STCs will provide an official letter of notification to selected partners soon after.

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.

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 successful 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.


Acting Deputy Chief for Programs

Attachment A - WREP FY 2023 Announcement of Funding Proposal Requirements and Review Criteria
Attachment B - WREP FY 2023 Timeline Targets
Attachment C - WREP FY 2023 Evaluation Form
Attachment D - WREP FY 2023 Proposal Template
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