The Natural Resources Conservation Service has proposed changes to the way the agency will make some wetland determinations. The agency’s proposal filed in the federal register states that Prairie Pothole states including Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota would incorporate the use of offsite resources to make official wetland determinations in some instances.
In its proposal, the NRCS noted that using off-site methods would increase the agency’s efficiency, implement multi-state consistency and maintain the level of determination quality and accuracy.
Historically, the NRCS has already used off-site resources to some degree, but not to the extent of completing a wetland determination in its entirety.
The NRCS is currently taking comments on this matter until February 20, 2015. The South Dakota Corn Growers urge all famers, landowners and interested parties to let your voice be heard in order to protect the rights of our farmers/landowners.
The idea of the NRCS incorporating these methods may seem somewhat alarming at first, but with the enormous wetland determination backlog in South Dakota forcing growers to wait 1-2 years to get an answer, this procedure could be beneficial to the state’s farmers under certain circumstances.
For these reasons, the South Dakota Corn Growers are asking for the NRCS to make the newly proposed State Off-Site Methods optional along with other considerations when implementing these new procedures.
The South Dakota Corn Growers Association urges the following responses regarding the NRCS State Off-Site Methods.
- Landowners MUST be given an option as to whether or not the wetland determination being done at their request is performed using off-site or on-site methods. (The NRCS should clearly explain both options to help the farmer better understand each procedure. The NRCS employee should also ask for any additional documentation the landowner may have about drainage and soils on the requested tract.)
- All appeals need to be done onsite to ground truth hydric soil indicators. The farmer deserves an onsite visit during the appeal process even if he or she initially elected to go with the off-site methods procedure.
- The soil survey should not be used to indicate site-specific hydric soils. Hydric Soil Indicators should be found on site before the soils portion of a wetland is confirmed. The soil survey is meant for broad planning purposes only.
- South Dakota is in a current wet cycle. The past 20 years are among the wettest in the last 10,000 years. Therefore, wetness signatures that appear on aerial images from the last 20 years are much more likely to be present than years prior to 1992. This overrepresentation of wetness signatures is not fair to the farmer, for whom the NRCS is working. An equal number of normal years post and prior to 1985 should be looked at.
- With the abnormal wetness since the original law was passed in 1985, many wet areas and lakes have grown in size. In eastern South Dakota, many thousands of acres of farmland have been covered by water. The size of the wetlands should be determined by the size they were before the law was passed. These thousands of acres that became inundated only after 1985 should not be considered wetlands.
- When considering hydrologic indicators, it should also be noted that tones from soil color differences, clay pans, salt crusts, spot tillage of low areas or lack of residue from the previous year are not wetness signatures.
- When using off-site methods, only normal precipitation years should be considered when making a wetland determination. Years that included a FEMA flood declaration, severe precipitation event or drought disaster declaration for the county of the plot being considered should be omitted from the determination process.
- The NRCS tool for identifying wetlands does not work properly if the wetland delineation is less than 0.1 acre. Advanced programming should be done by the NRCS to accurately identify wetland boundaries. Otherwise the agency has no business making wetland determinations smaller than 0.1 acre.
- The responsibility of labeling meandering streams should be left to Corps of Engineers, just as it is handled in Minnesota and Iowa.
- I understand this is a tool to improve the agency’s overall efficiency and to help reduce the large backlog in South Dakota, but the off-site procedure needs to be an option, not a mandate, for landowners who depend on the land for their family’s livelihood. I hope that you will respect your customer’s right for an onsite visit if he or she deems it necessary. Giving landowners a choice will improve the trust that has been broken between farmers and the NRCS and will certainly lessen the number of appeals that would rise from farmers concerned with the off-site procedures.