Did you know that May is American Wetlands Month? For more than 25 years, the month of May is a time when government, non-profit and private sector organizations celebrate the vital importance of wetlands. These important resources improve water quality downstream, protect nearby towns from flooding, enhance wildlife habitat and provide outdoor recreational and educational opportunities.
Since the 1800's, Iowa has lost almost 90 percent of its 4 million wetland acres that were once the primary habitat in in many parts of the state. There are written accounts of pioneers reporting more than 200 wetlands per square mile in the northern prairie pothole region of the state.
Since 1993, more than 1,500 Iowa landowners have enrolled nearly 190,000 wetland acres into USDA-funded easements. 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.
Benefits of Wetlands
Although wetlands now 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.
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.
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 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 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 through the Farm Bill. If you are interested in protecting, restoring or enhancing wetlands on your property through an easement, visit us at your local USDA Service Center to apply at any time.