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Cotton grass in a wetland in Alaska

Certified Wetlands Determination

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is responsible for providing program participants technical assistance and certified wetland determinations to assist them in making informed land management decisions in order to remain compliant with the wetland conservation provisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a certified wetland determination?

A certified wetland determination indicates areas subject to wetland conservation provisions, and if present, identifies the location of each. The determination stays in effect as long as the land is used for agricultural purposes or until the producer requests a review citing an error or following a natural event that altered the hydrology of the site.

How do I find out if a certified wetland determination already exists on my land?

You may contact the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to obtain the most current wetland determination if one already exists. All wetland determinations made after July 3, 1996 are certified wetland determinations. Determinations made after November 28, 1990, and before July 3, 1996, are considered certified if the determination was issued on or after the June 1991 version of form NRCS-CPA-026 or SCS-CPA-026, and the associated map is of sufficient quality to identify presence or absence of wetlands.

How do I request a certified wetland determination for planned drainage or land clearing project?

To initiate the process, visit your local FSA office to complete or update Form AD-1026 “Highly Erodible Land Conservation (HELC) and Wetland Conservation (WC) Certification” for the area you wish assessed.

In addition, you may request the determination through NRCS by completing Form NRCS-CPA-38, "Request for Certified Wetland Determination or Delineation" for general information on the property.


Now that my request is submitted, what can I expect as NRCS completes the wetland determination? 

To identify wetlands subject to the conservation provisions, NRCS will confirm three diagnostic factors for an area:

  1. prevalence of hydrophytic vegetation (plants that live in water or saturated soil conditions) under normal circumstances, meaning vegetation that would exist if not farmed.
  2. predominance of hydric soil (soils that are impacted by ground or surface water to support hydrophytic vegetation) and;
  3. wetland hydrology (ground or surface water that inundates or saturates soils sufficiently to support a prevalence of hydrophytic vegetation).

Step 1: Wetland Identification

  1. Using a variety of remote data sources, NRCS will identify potential wetlands, non-wetlands, and drainage features. These areas, called sampling units, will be delineated on a base map.  These sampling units will be assessed for presence of the three wetland diagnostic factors.
  2. NRCS will decide if the three diagnostic factors can be evaluated without collecting field data or if a field visit is required.  If a field visit is necessary, you will be notified and given an opportunity to participate.
  3. NRCS will evaluate sampling units for prevalence of hydrophytic vegetation.
    1. If onsite review is not required, NRCS will review remote resources that identify dominant vegetation species for the sampling units.  County Soil Survey Ecological Site Descriptions, Official Soil Series Descriptions, wetland reference sites, and USFWS National Wetland Inventory vegetation data can be used to indicate hydrophytic vegetation prevalence.
    2. If onsite review is required, NRCS will observe and document the presence of hydrophytic and non-hydrophytic plants to determine whether hydrophytic vegetation is prevalent.
  4. NRCS will evaluate sampling units for predominance of hydric soil.
    1. If onsite review is not required, NRCS will determine whether the sampling units have a predominance of hydric soils according to the published soil survey.  
    2. If onsite review is required, NRCS will evaluate representative locations within the sampling units to determine if hydric soils are present.  Hydric soils are often identified by unique soil colors due to mineral depletion or accumulation, and the presence of organic soil material. 
  5. NRCS will evaluate sampling units for wetland hydrology.
    1. If onsite review is not required, NRCS will review remote resources including aerial imagery taken in normal precipitation years to assess if sampling units have been inundated by water or affected by saturated soil conditions sufficient to meet wetland hydrology. 
    2. If onsite review is required, NRCS will evaluate representative locations within sampling units to determine if hydrology is present under normal circumstances (under normal climate and lack of disturbance).  Indicators could include surface water, high water table, saturation, or signs of recent water presence left in soil features.  

Step 2: NRCS will determine the wetland type.

  1. Sampling units are labeled to reflect any wetland function and history of the site. Criteria for labeling includes pre and post Food Security Act wetland drainage, how much hydrology the site supports (if any), and the history of use. Labels include but are not limited to: W (wetland), NW (non-wetland), PC (prior converted cropland), FW (farmed wetland), FWP (farmed wetland pasture), and CW (converted wetland). For certain wetlands, this is where the Farmed Wetland Hydrology Indicators can be applied.

Step 3: NRCS will determine the size of each wetland.

  1. The acreage is determined for each wetland delineation and denoted on the base map.

Step 4: NRCS will complete a wetland determination map by delineating the wetland, documenting the label, and recording the wetland acreage.

Step 5: NRCS will complete Form NRCS-CPA-026 “Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Determination”, attach the wetland determination map, and issue a preliminary technical determination. See example, below

See example, below:

CWD_map.pdf (1.47 MB)


Additional Information