Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Mountain-Prairie Region

Grassland Easements

photo of native grass around wetland by staffVast grasslands once covered much of North America. Settlement, agriculture, and development have reduced prairie habitats to a patchwork of isolated grasslands in a sea of croplands, roads, and cities. Loss of grasslands is detrimental to people as well as to wildlife. Grasslands help reduce soil erosion caused by wind and water. They also filter chemicals, thus protecting our water supplies. Vegetation, such as grass, forbs, and shrubs, help trap snow and rain. This allows a more regulated flow of precipitation to seep into the ground, recharging water supplies. Grasslands also provide season long forage for livestock. Many wildlife species depend on grasslands for food, cover, and nesting sites. Protecting grasslands ensures that wildlife will be there for future generations to enjoy.
 
Photo of native grass with wetland running through it by StaffThe grassland easement, always used in combination with a wetland easement, protects the entire prairie pothole community. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first offered this combination of easements in 1991. Since then, it has been used successfully to protect the grass uplands around wetlands previously protected by wetland easements, and it is now used concurrently with wetland easements.
 
The easement terms restrict haying, mowing, and grass seed harvest until after July 15 of each year. This restriction is to help grassland nesting species, such as ducks and pheasants, complete their nesting before the grass is disturbed. Alteration (plowing) of grasslands, wildlife habitat, and other natural features is prohibited. Farming is prohibited. Landowners maintain permanent vegetative cover such as forbs, grasses, and low shrubs. Grazing is allowed at any time. The landowner maintains the right to open or close the land to hunting and trapping.
 
A written permit may be obtained from the administering manager to replant or rejuvenate tame grassland habitat. Grasses suitable to the owner's needs and to the long-term benefits of wildlife are encouraged. Cost sharing or donated seed may be available through Federal, State, or private organizations.

Grassland easements are part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. In Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota there are over 400,000 acres in grassland easements.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife provides information to landowners regarding grassland easements and makes referrals to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Realty Division staff. Partners for Fish and Wildlife also restores grasslands, making them eligible for grassland easement protection.

 

A grassland easement is a legal agreement signed with the United States of America, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) that pays landowners to permanently keep their land in grass. Many landowners never plan on putting their land into crop production and can benefit from the added cash incentive of a grassland easement.

Property must lie within an approved county and have potential value to wildlife. Highest priority lands are large tracts of grassland with high wetland densities and native prairie or soils most likely to be converted to cropland.

Subsurface rights, such as oil, gas, and mineral, are not affected. However, landowners must consult their local Service representative to avoid potential easement violations situations.

 
A grassland easement is a permanent (perpetual) agreement between the Service and all present and future landowners. The Service obtains title evidence from the abstractor at no cost to the landowner. The title is checked to determine that all owners of record have signed the easement. Service attorneys will review the case and furnish an opinion of title. If the opinion points out any title defects, we will assist the landowner in correcting these title defects. The easement will then be accepted by the Service. This process usually take about six to nine months.

Once the easement has been accepted, the landowner receives a letter by certified mail informing him that the easement has been accepted and is being recorded at the county courthouse. The Service will also send a copy of the fully executed easement at that time.


To determine payment, a Service appraiser estimates the value of the easement based on a fair market value appraisal. This appraisal is based on the affect of the easement on your property. The appraisal is then approved by a Service review appraiser. The payment is made in a single lump-sum payment in the form of a check from the U.S. Treasury for the full amount specified in the easement. Payment is usually made within six to nine months after the easement has been signed. The Service pays to record the easement and have the abstracter bring the title evidence up to date prior to payment. 

 

Last updated: August 8, 2011