A Wetland easement is a legal agreement signed with the United States of America, through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), that pays you to permanently protect wetlands. Wetlands covered by an easement cannot be drained, filled, leveled, or burned. When these wetlands dry up naturally, they can be farmed, grazed, or hayed. Wetlands covered by an easement are mapped and a copy of the easement and maps is sent to the landowner. No signs are placed on your property and the easement will not affect your hunting or mineral rights.
WHY PROTECT WETLANDS?
Wetlands benefit people as well as wildlife. Wetlands can control erosion and prevent flooding by holding water and reducing runoff. They also recharge sub-surface water supplies and provide hay land in dry years. Wetlands provide crucial habitat for many types of wildlife including ducks, pheasants, and deer. More than half of the nation's wetlands have been lost to agricultural drainage since the 1800's. Protecting wetlands ensures these habitats, wildlife, and benefits will be there for future generations.
DOES ANY LAND QUALIFY FOR A WETLAND EASEMENT?
No. The property must have wetlands of value to waterfowl and be in a county which has been approved for the easement program. This easement program is offered only in the prairie pothole region of Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa.
HOW MUCH OF MY LAND
WOULD BE COVERED
BY THE EASEMENT?
The easement covers certain existing wetlands or those which recur through natural causes. Impoundments by dams or dikes do not qualify. The easement wetlands are shown on a map (referred to in the contract as Exhibit A) which is part of the easement agreement. Enforcement of the terms of the easement will be limited to these wetlands.
WHAT HAPPENS WITH WETLANDS I HAVE ALREADY DRAINED?
Wetlands already drained will not be covered by the provisions of the easement unless the ditch is filled in and the wetlands are restored.
Landowner Use and Other Rights
WILL THE EASEMENT AFFECT MY
FARMING OF THE WETLANDS?
The easement does not affect normal farming practices such as cropping, haying, grazing, plowing, or working wetlands when they are dry due to natural causes.
WILL THE EASEMENT AFFECT
HUNTING AND TRAPPING RIGHTS ON MY LAND?
No. You still have the right to open or close your lands to hunting and trapping as you have in the past.
WILL THE EASEMENT
AFFECT MY MINERAL RIGHTS?
No. You retain your right to develop your minerals. But please remember that the easement prohibits burning, draining, filling, and leveling of the wetland areas.
The Easement Process
HOW DO I APPLY FOR THE
PROGRAM AND BEGIN THE PROCESS?
Simply call the contact person listed on this brochure. That contact person, a Service realty specialist or field biologist, will further explain the program and answer any questions. A site inspection of your property will be scheduled if you determine that you would like to participate in the easement program.
HOW LONG DOES THE EASEMENT
This is a permanent (perpetual) easement between the Service and all present and future landowners.
WHAT HAPPENS BEFORE
THE EASEMENT IS ACCEPTED?
The Service obtains title evidence from the abstracter at no cost to you. 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 you in correcting these title defects. The easement will then be accepted by the Service. This process usually takes about 6 to 9 months.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER
THE EASEMENT IS ACCEPTED?
You will receive a letter by certified mail informing you that the easement has been accepted and is being recorded at the county courthouse. We will also send you a copy of the fully executed easement at that time.
The Payment Process
HOW IS THE PAYMENT
A Service appraiser estimates the value of the easement based on 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.
WHAT IS THE METHOD OF
A single lump-sum payment, in the form of a check from the U.S. Treasury for the full amount specified in the easement, will be sent to the landowner.
WHEN WILL I BE PAID?
Payment is usually made within 6 to 9 months after the easement has been signed. We must record the easement and have the abstracter bring the title evidence up to date prior to payment.
If the Proposed Easement is Mortgaged
WHAT IF I HAVE A MORTGAGE ON
Usually, mortgages do not affect easement transactions. If the mortgage holder needs to consent to the easement, we will ask the mortgage holder for a signed statement known as a subordination agreement, which subordinates the rights of the mortgage to those of the easement.
WHO PAYS FOR THE SUBORDINATION AGREEMENT?
You must pay when a charge is made by the mortgage holder for the subordination agreement. You can file a claim for this charge with the Service and be reimbursed.
WHO RECEIVES PAYMENT WHEN THERE IS A MORTGAGE OR CONTRACT FOR DEED?
This is dependent on the mortgage holder or the contract seller and the terms of your agreement with them. They may require that all or part of the money be applied to the mortgage or contract balance, or they may allow the entire payment to go to you.
IF I AM BUYING MY LAND UNDER A CONTRACT FOR DEED, DOES THE SELLER JOIN IN SIGNING THE EASEMENT?
Yes. In order for an easement to be placed on your property, both you and the contract seller, who holds the legal title, must sign the easement agreement.