A Win-Win for Landowners & Wildlife

The Migratory Birds, Butterflies and Pollinators Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) State Acres for Wildlife (SAFE) practice is designed to provide landowners a market-based financial incentive for restoring playa wetlands.

Restored, healthy playas improve water quality, increase groundwater recharge, and enhance habitat for migrating waterfowl, cranes and shorebirds, as well as resident wildlife, butterflies and other pollinators.

A healthy playa has an intact clay basin — without excavated pits or ditches — that is not buried by sediment from nearby fields. Water from the surrounding watershed freely enters the basin through a native vegetative buffer without being diverted from the playa by roads, terraces or other impediments.

About the Program

The Migratory Birds SAFE program uses a competitive bid process. Landowners submit an offer to enroll their playa acres into the program for an amount they are willing to accept as an annual payment and contracts are for periods of 10 to 15 years. As part of enrollment, the playa hydrology must be restored to the maximum extent possible, as determined by NRCS. Additional incentives may be available for signing up and for cost-share associated with restoration activities.

Offers should be somewhere between the NASS county-level dryland and irrigated cropland rental rates and are only eligible on playas with designated areas. Counties in the designated areas include Cheyenne, Clark, Finney, Ford, Graham, Grant, Gove, Gray, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearney, Lane, Logan, Meade, Ness, Rawlins, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stevens, Thomas, Wallace, and Wichita.

Offers compete within one of three designated areas and no more than 50% of the offers from one area will be accepted during each ranking period. Offers are ranked on financial and ecological factors, including relative bid amount, size of playa, and thickness of the underlying aquifer.

The minimum enrollment per offer is two acres, and the maximum enrollment per offer is 160 acres. Offers can be submitted on a continuous basis, and will be periodically reviewed and ranked, followed by contracts being offered. To be considered in the first ranking period, offers must be submitted between now and February 18, 2022.

Offers that aren’t successful during the current round can be carried over for consideration during the next round, or can be revised and resubmitted. View the FSA Fact Sheet for more details.

Tools to Help Create a Competitive Bid

Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) developed a Playa Land Use Calculator which can help you create a competitive bid that meets your objectives. The calculator helps determine the amount needed to enroll your playa, instead of farming it, and estimate playa restoration costs. You can also find out how much water you could be sending back into your groundwater supply and other benefits of playa restoration, enter your own field details or use defaults to get a ballpark figure to help determine your bid amount, and compare good and bad years by adjusting crop prices, crop types, expenses, and how often crops are lost. The calculator is available to download as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (version 1.2, updated Feb. 14, 2022). To learn how to use the calculator, watch the tutorial video.

Use PLJV’s interactive Playa Map to see if your playas are within one of the three eligibility areas and to find an estimate of aquifer thickness underneath individual playas, which is one of the ranking factors. The interactive map allows you to explore the playa region and click on individual playas for more information. Before you get started, you can watch a short tutorial video, which walks you through the all the features and shows you how to use the tool.

You may also use other tools, such as the Western Kansas Wetland Layers Map, to help guide you in making informed decisions about restoring your playas through the Migratory Bird SAFE. While only playas found in the PLJV dataset are currently being evaluated for acceptance into the SAFE program, other resources like the Western Kansas map can provide valuable contextual information. For example, the map estimates playa watershed boundaries, which may help in determining a buffer area to include in an offer and understanding how water can be restored to the playa.

The PLJV Playa Recharge and Wetness Estimators are built on a simple, interactive map platform, which allows anyone to explore the playa landscape, calculate an estimate of how much water recharges through playas on their land, and learn about past patterns of wetness for their playas in different seasons. The tool also includes answers to frequently asked questions and links to more information about playas and their role in recharging the aquifer. To learn how to use the tools, watch the Recharge Estimator tutorial and Wetness Estimator tutorial videos.

Playa restoration guide

Playa restoration reverses past modifications to playas by removing accumulated sediment, filling drainage features, redirecting water back into the playa, and protecting the playa with a buffer composed of native vegetation. Download the Playa Restoration Guide to learn more about how to restore and maintain healthy playas and what to expect as you work with conservation delivery staff to plan and implement a playa restoration project.