South Dakota landowners weigh in on wetland determinations

Farm Forum

BROOKINGS, S.D. – Wetlands have been protected from drainage since the wetland conservation compliance provisions “Swampbuster” was enacted in the 1985 Farm Bill.

“When producers want to drain soils on their land, they can fill out an AD-1026 form. NRCS will then begin the process for examination of the land to verify if wetlands are already listed or if an additional wetland determination is needed,” said Daniel Ostrem, SDSU Extension Water Resource Field Specialist. “If a producer is not in compliance with these provisions, they can lose their farm benefits.”

One of the greatest benefits that would be lost, Ostrem explained is subsidized crop insurance.

Concerns over the backlog of wetland determinations was the basis for two meetings held July 30 and August 1 in Aberdeen and Huron.

“The public forum was set up to address the farming communities concerns about the backlog of wetland determinations in South Dakota and how the determinations were being conducted,” he said.

The backlog is 2,993 determinations requested as of July 1 in South Dakota. The listening session in Huron was designed to explain the new proposed off-site procedures for wetland determinations and the possibilities of wetland mitigation.

More details about these provisions can be obtained from the NRCS website.

During the public forum, in Aberdeen, a panel of speakers was present to answer questions. Speakers included: Tom Christensen, Associate Chief of Operations, National NRCS; Jeff Zimprich, State Conservationist, SD NRCS; Lynn Tjeerdsma, Senior Policy Advisor, Senator Thune and Rick Vallery, Field Representative for Congresswoman Noem.

Two other NRCS staff members, Paul Flynn and Gerald Jasmer, were available to answer more technical questions relating to wetland determinations.

During the meeting, producers voiced the opinion that the determinations were disconnected from the soil and they would like to see more on-site work. They wanted to be either shown the delineation boundaries in the field, or at least be given a more detailed report than what they have been receiving.

There was discussion on the use of third party consultants to gather determination data and how that data could be used. The point was raised that producers, who are willing to spend their own money to hire a private consultant, should be able to use that data for the determination.

NRCS by law is tasked to be the final rule on the determinations, but is able to take consultant data into consideration and could even use it as quality assurance for the agency’s work.

The Aug. 1 listening session was intended to explain the proposed procedures of state offsite methods for wetland determinations and additional opportunities for the use of wetland mitigation banking.

There were four of these sessions conducted around the Midwest, each one in a different state, to gather comments from the public.

“The goal of the offsite methods is to help reduce the backlog of determinations that have been created by an increase in determination requests in the past few years,” Ostrem said.

Offsite methods can help reduce the amount of time and travel that is required for on-site determinations so the backlog can start being reduced.

NRCS also wants to make determinations more consistent in South Dakota and agree with what other states are doing.

“Many producers and wetland consultants voiced their concerns about how these determinations may not provide accurate results,” Ostrem said.

He explained further that the offsite methods would use aerial imagery, elevation data, remote sensing data and USDA soils maps to give a preliminary determination. “This determination will be sent to the producer for a 30-day review to appeal the determination,” he said.

If appealed, the person that did the determination would come out to do an on-site determination.

Some of the concerns raised and noted by Ostrem include: color tones in the remote sensing data can represent many different factors other than wet spots; soils surveyed to be hydric soils were mapped incorrectly and how the hydrology has been changing in the most recent years from the condition when the Swampbuster was put in place in 1985.

NRCS gave a presentation on wetland mitigation and requested comments for implementing a USDA banking system within the state.

“Based on the comments received from the public at these meetings, an updated off-site procedure is expected to be put into the federal register sometime this fall,” Ostrem said. “Once published in the register, there will be a comment period for the procedures.”