Press Release
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Provides Landowners Clarity and Assurances on Wetland Easements
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To help provide consistency, clarity and transparency to landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized new regulations that will utilize effective use of conservation easements to support landowners’ property rights while ensuring conservation of natural resources in the prairie pothole region of the United States.

The final rule formalizes the existing process the Service uses to work collaboratively with landowners on farmland management recommendations where the Service and landowners work together to manage conservation easements. It provides assurances for landowners who wish to install drain-tile systems near protected wetlands and also ensures that if landowners follow Service-provided setback distances for their drain-tile system installation, they will not be held legally responsible if the wetland is drained by the system, as long as the system has not been modified, enhanced or replaced. The regulations would apply to wetland easements in the prairie pothole region of the United States in Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“Wetland habitat in the prairie pothole region is critically important to waterfowl and other migratory bird populations – producing more than half of the primary species of ducks on the North American continent,” said Service Director Martha Williams. “These new regulations provide greater certainty and clarity for landowners and the Service and encourage communication and collaboration in the administration and protection of the important and unique features of this region.”

Conservation easements in the prairie pothole region protect wetlands that are critical feeding and breeding habitat for migratory waterfowl and other bird populations. The region, including portions of Canada, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, is known as the “duck factory” because it is where more than 50% of North America’s upland nesting ducks hatch. The conservation easements help ensure these charismatic and ecologically important species continue to thrive. 

Conservation easements are a valuable tool for landowners in the United States. These voluntary contracts allow landowners to be compensated for certain property rights to conserve habitat value while, in most instances, retaining their ability to generate revenue on their working lands. Conservation easements on private land also add significant conservation value to the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Landowners who have wetland easements with the Service often seek clarity and certainty before investing in expensive drain-tile systems. The Service is committed to strengthening positive relationships with private landowners who steward these conservation easements and their habitat values and continues to work to improve the conservation easement conservation easement
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a government agency or qualified conservation organization that restricts the type and amount of development that may take place on a property in the future. Conservation easements aim to protect habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife by limiting residential, industrial or commercial development. Contracts may prohibit alteration of the natural topography, conversion of native grassland to cropland, drainage of wetland and establishment of game farms. Easement land remains in private ownership.

Learn more about conservation easement
program’s clarity and transparency.

The final rule will publish in the Federal Register on May 13, 2024, and will become effective in 30 days on June 12, 2024. More information is available online at Docket Number: FWS-HQ-NWRS-2022-0092.

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