Diverse characteristics of wetlands restored under the Wetlands Reserve Program in the Southeastern United States
The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) restores converted or degraded wetlands on private working lands; however, the nature and outcomes of such efforts are undocumented in the Southeastern U.S. Identification of wetland types is needed to assess the program's conservation benefits, because ecological functions differ with hydrogeomorphic (HGM) type. We reviewed > 100 WRP projects across the Southeast Piedmont-Coastal Plain to characterize their wetland types and to evaluate whether restoration practices favored original or modified functions. The projects encompassed four HGM types and diverse prerestoration conditions. Nearly half were converted wetlands retired from active agriculture; the remainder were either drained vegetated wetlands or forested bottomlands degraded by timber harvest. Hydrology-repair practices varied by wetland type and prior condition, with differing functional implications. Depressions and flats typically were restored, whereas low-order riparian sites and prior-agriculture floodplains were often modified to enhance water retention. Timber harvested floodplains were restored by removing barriers to water flow and biotic connectivity. Vegetation restoration was generally passive, but tree planting was frequent on prior-agriculture sites. Field surveys suggested that most projects had positive indicators of wetland hydrology, vegetation, and faunal use. The variety of Southeastern WRP wetlands has implications for ecosystem services at local and landscape scales.