Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Farm Bill/Conservation Features

The conservation title of the Food Security Act of 1985 (Title XII, P.L. 99-198, 99 Stat. 1354, December 23, 1985), as amended by the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (Title XIV, P.L. 101-624, 104 Stat. 3359, November 28, 1990), contains several provisions that contribute to wetland conservation.

The Swampbuster provisions stated that farmers who produce an agricultural commodity on wetlands converted after enactment are ineligible for most farmer program subsidies. The Act was amended in 1990 to change the trigger for imposition of penalties from production of an agricultural commodity, to conversion for the purpose of planting.

Administration of the program in the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is shared by the Soil Conservation Service (technical determinations) and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (compliance determinations). USDA is required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on matters relating to wetland identification, determination of exemptions to the wetland conservation provisions, issuance of implementing regulations, mitigation, and restoration of values and functions on converted wetlands.

The 1990 amendments also minimized the penalties by allowing the Secretary to reduce the loss suffered by reason of ineligibility by $750 to $10,000 under certain conditions. In addition, the amendments clarified the minimal effects exemption and provided for mitigation for frequently cropped wetlands (farmed more often than not) and wetlands that were converted but had no commodity crop produced on them from 1985 through 1990. Mitigation must occur on prior converted wetlands. The Act also adds mapping and on-site visit requirements.

The 1985 Act also established a Conservation Reserve program, providing an opportunity for farmers to enter into 10-year contracts with the Department of Agriculture to take highly erodible land out of production and receive annual rental payments for returning the land to permanent vegetative cover and for applying soil conservation prescriptions such as wildlife habitat development.

The program was expanded in 1988 by regulation to make cropped wetlands eligible for the program, with the intended result of wetland restoration. The 1990 amendments replaced this program with a new Environmental Conservation Acreage Reserve Program extending the CRP acreage to not less than 40,000,000 acres but not more than 45,000,000 acres. It is to be composed of a conservation reserve and a wetland reserve. With respect to the conservation reserve, it made various water quality and wildlife related amendments to emphasize achieving environmental benefits.

The Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) is a voluntary program to restore and protect wetlands through 30-year easements, permanent easements, or easements of the maximum length provided by State law, together with the restoration of the functions and values of wetlands on such easement areas. Existing cropped wetlands and cropland that was previously wetland prior to drainage are eligible. The authorized enrollment goal is, to the extent practicable, one million acres by December 31, 1995, with not more than 200,000 cumulative acres per year.

The 1990 amendments also added water quality incentives, created an Environmental Easement Program, amended the Noxious Weed Act of 1974, require all Federal land management agencies to designate coordinators and institute programs, and require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish an Agricultural Council on Environmental Quality served by an Office of AEQ in the Department.

The 1990 Act amended the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act to require the Secretary of Agriculture, in disposing of FmHA inventory property, to establish perpetual easements to protect and restore wetlands.

The credit title (Title XIII) of the 1985 Act authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to grant or sell conservation easements, which may include wetlands, to State or local governments or private non-profit organizations for conservation purposes.

It also authorized the Secretary to grant partial relief for Federal indebtedness in exchange for not-less-than 50-year conservation easements on selected lands held by borrowers.

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