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Are Wetland Easements Right for You?

Posted by By Ciji Taylor, NRCS in Conservation Forestry Farming
May 16, 2018

Wetlands improve water quality downstream, protect nearby towns from flooding, enhance wildlife habitat and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities. Landowners who want to restore and protect wetlands on their property can get help from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service by enrolling in a conservation easement.

Through conservation easements, private landowners can restore and protect wetlands on their land.

Through conservation easements, private landowners can restore and protect wetlands on their land. 

Benefits of Wetlands

Although wetlands only cover a small portion of the continental U.S., half of all North American bird species use them for feeding or nesting. More than one-third of all threatened or endangered species are dependent on wetland habitat, and they host nearly one-third of all plant species on Earth.

Restored wetlands from the Northern Plains down to the Gulf Coast provide “rest stops” for waterfowl and rare birds like the whooping crane. In Oregon, private landowners saved the Oregon chub from the brink of extinction, making it the first fish in the history of the Endangered Species Act to fully recover as a result of wetland restoration. And in the heart of the South, restored wetlands helped save the Louisiana black bear from being listed as an endangered species.

A variety of waterfowl, including green-winged teal, use wetlands for food and habitat.

A variety of waterfowl, including green-winged teal, use wetlands for food and habitat. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wetlands also filter and store water, improving water quality and minimizing the risk of flooding. Wetlands provide ample benefits to people, and the greatest potential to restore wetlands in the United States is on private lands, including the nation’s farms, ranches and forests.

USDA offers conservation easements through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program or ACEP, a Farm Bill program. Through the program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners to protect, restore, and enhance wetlands and other sensitive lands.

Could a wetland easement be right for you and your land?

Easement Enrollment Options

When you apply for an easement, you have two enrollment options: a permanent easement or a 30-year easement. Indian tribes also have the option of a 30-year contract. An easement is a real estate transaction and takes the form of a deed. You, the landowner, will continue to control access to the land in any of these options.

  • Permanent easements:This is a conservation easement in perpetuity. The easement payment will be the lesser of the fair market value of the land determined by an appraisal or area wide market analysis, an established payment cap or an amount offered by the landowner. In addition to paying for the easement, USDA pays 100 percent of the costs of restoring the wetland.

  • 30-year easements:This is a conservation easement lasting 30 years. Easement payments are 75 percent of what would be paid for a permanent easement and USDA pays 75 percent of restoration costs.

  • 30-year contracts: This is a 30-year agreement that is eligible only on acreage owned by Indian tribes. Program payment rates are commensurate with 30-year easements.

The Everglades are home to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere as well as a network of other ecosystems, including wet prairies, sawgrass marshes, swamps and hardwood hammocks stretching from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.

The Everglades are home to the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere as well as a network of other ecosystems, including wet prairies, sawgrass marshes, swamps and hardwood hammocks stretching from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. 

Landowner Rights

The landowner retains four basic rights under a wetland easement:

  • The right to sell the property and pay taxes. The easement deed runs with the land and transfers with the property should a new owner purchase the property with an easement.

  • The right to private access; no public access is required.

  • The right to quiet enjoyment and recreational use including hunting, fishing, trapping and other quiet recreational uses. Game farms and fish farms are not allowed.

  • The right to subsurface resources provided no drilling or mining takes place within the easement boundaries.

Are You Ready for a Wetland Easement?

Since 1992, private landowners have restored and protected more than 2.7 million acres of wetlands with help from NRCS. This year marks the 25-year anniversary of conservation easements from NRCS being available to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners through the Farm Bill.

If you are interested in protecting, restoring or enhancing wetlands on your property through an easement, visit your local USDA service center to submit an application at any time.

We are here to help make your land work for you.

Category/Topic: Conservation Forestry Farming