Habitat & Conservation  |  01/19/2022

H2Ohio Water Quality Incentive Program

Pheasants Forever Farm Bill wildlife biologist Jimmy Giannone (left) and ODNR Private Lands Biologist Mark Witt recently flew over some WQIP projects to document crop damage of the project sites.

By Jimmy Giannone, Ohio Farm Bill Biologist

In 2020, Governor DeWine introduced the H2Ohio initiative to improve water quality in the Lake Erie watershed. As Part of this initiative, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) offered the Water Quality Incentive Program (WQIP) which is program paired with the Lake Erie Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) that focuses on water quality throughout the Lake Erie basin in Northwest Ohio.

Through the program, ODNR provided a $2000-per-acre one time incentive for new wetland and riparian buffer conservation practices implemented on current agricultural ground. These practices will help reduce excessive nutrients and sediment carried into waterways through surface runoff and subsurface drainage. The ultimate goal is improved water quality throughout the impaired Lake Erie watershed.

The program drew in 150 applicants with 141 projects being accepted in the first signup, totaling 2,445.2 acres to be enrolled into CREP. Riparian buffers make up 110.3 acres while the wetlands consist of 2,334.9 acres. A total of 8,984.2 acres of the Lake Erie watershed will be filtered by these projects. These projects are required to be maintained to conservation standards throughout the life of the 15-year contract.

Ohio conservation agencies and partners worked hard to promote this unique opportunity with producers and landowners. ODNR private lands biologists, service foresters, NRCS and SWCD staff, as well as Pheasants Forever Farm Bill wildlife biologists, have conducted outreach, provided engineering and technical assistance, and developed plans for WQIP projects.

Local Pheasants Forever chapters have also played an important role in spreading the word and bringing in projects that have put many acres of habitat on the ground. For example, with help from the Wyandot County PF chapter, Wyandot County led the state with 26 projects in the first year of the program.

In addition to the wetland habitat these projects create, WQIP is producing upland habitat as well. Grassland buffers are installed around each wetland pool area at up to a 3:1 or 4:1 grass buffer to pool area ratio, depending on location of the site within a floodplain. These grassland buffers consist of native prairie grasses or introduced grasses and a wide diversity of forbs as well as wildlife-beneficial shrubs. These wetland buffers will provide exceptional habitat for grassland nesting birds, upland gamebirds and pollinators.

Grassland nesting songbirds and upland gamebirds will rely on these buffer areas for nesting success, brood rearing, foraging, and shelter during adverse weather conditions. The diverse seed mixtures for these projects generally include 10 to 20 flowering forbs that will bloom during the early, mid and late bloom periods to maximize benefits for a plethora of pollinators.

WQIP and H2Ohio provide a great example of how soil and water conservation programs can also benefit wildlife. Pheasant Forever and our partners seek out these opportunities to combine ecosystem services with wildlife habitat improvements. Clean water is something that impacts every citizen, garnering greater public support and increased funding for conservation.

This story originally appeared in the 2022 Winter Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!