The Big Dry Arm Spring Storm in the Great Basin Red Cliffs Desert Tortoise Reserve March Morning on the Platte River After a Spring Storm in the Great Basin Hunting Upland Birds at Kingsbury Lake Waterfowl Production Area Sandhill Migration on the Platte River Badlands Sunrise The Green River at Ouray NWR North Park Lupines Moab Sunset
Refuge System - Realty
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

Realty Division

 

The Role of Realty Division Staff | Region 6 Realty Field Offices | Contact Us | Understanding Wetland Easements | Understanding Grassland Easements | Open / Close All

Photo of a grass field and fence post. Credit: Heather Horton
Grassland. Photo Credit: Heather Horton

Welcome!

The Realty Division of the Mountain-Prairie Region National Wildlife Refuge System supports the acquisition of lands and waters for conservation in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The 8-state Mountain-Prairie Region is comprised of Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

The lands are acquired using the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, also known as Duck Stamp money.

The primary purpose and goal of the Realty Division is to provide specialized real estate expertise to all Service personnel and programs. Employees of this Division work in the Regional Office in Lakewood, CO, as well as at field stations in Great Falls, Montana; Bismarck and Minot, North Dakota; and Columbia and Huron, South Dakota.

 

 


The Role of Realty Division Staff »

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The Realty Division Staff:

  • Negotiates fee and easement land acquisition in the 8-state Region. Acquired fee and easement interests include habitats ranging from prairie ecosystems to bottomland hardwoods, to montane forest, all with the purpose of benefiting a variety of fish and wildlife resources.
  • Specializes in processing land titles, rights-of-way, withdrawals, relocation claims, land payments, case closings, land records and statistical reporting, and legal and technical problems involving land issues.
  • Monitors all land acquisition and related budget activities in the Region. Conducts surveys under the direction of the Regional Land Surveyor, who is located in the Regional Office in Lakewood, CO. The Regional Land Surveyor is responsible for all cadastral surveying of Service interest lands located in the Region.


Region 6 Realty Field Offices »

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Map of the Prairie Pothole Region Joint Venture

Map of the Prairie Pothole Region Joint Venture

Realty Division field stations are located in several of the northern states of Region 6. These offices are associated with the land acquisition program that is primarily dependent on funding from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The program involves the acquisition of small natural wetlands with associated uplands located primarily in the area known as the Prairie Pothole Region. These lands, known as Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) are acquired under the authority of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp Act. Many people refer to these funds as "Duck Stamp money."

WPAs that are purchased as fee title lands are managed by the Service and are generally open to the public for hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities under regulations of the individual states where they are located. Many areas are also purchased through wetland conservation easement agreements with private landowners. These easements are not open to the public, but they provide a valuable waterfowl habitat for breeding, nesting and rearing of young.


Contact Us »

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Regional Office
Division of Realty
National Wildlife Refuge System
P.O. Box 25486, DFC
Denver, CO 80225
303-236-8130

Montana Acquisition Office
Benton Lake NWR
922 Bootlegger Trail
Great Falls, MT 59404-6133
406-727-7400

North Dakota Field Office
Bismarck Acquisition Office
3425 Miriam Ave
Bismarck, ND 58501
701-355-8514

Minot Acquisition Office
2001 6th Street SE, Ste 5
Minot, ND 58701
701-852-0318

South Dakota Field Offices
Sand Lake Acquisition Office
39650 Sand Lake Dr
Columbia, SD 57433
605-885-6357

Huron Acquisition Office
200 4th Street SW
Huron SD 57350
605-352-7014


Understanding Wetland Easements »

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Land Qualifications | Landowner Use and Other Rights | The Easement Process | The Payment Process | If the Proposed Land is Mortgaged | Taxes | Potential Problems

Photo of a wetland. Credit: Robert Appleton
Wetland. Photo Credit: Robert Appleton

What is a Wetland Easement?
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 are 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.


Land Qualifications - Back to section top

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 - Back to section top

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 - Back to section top

How do I apply for the program and begin the process?
Simply call the contact person or office on the back of 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 last?
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 information 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 review the case and furnish an opinion of title. If the opinion indicates any title defects, we will assist you in correcting them before the Service accepts the easement. The 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 - Back to section top

How is the payment determined?
A Service realty specialist will estimate the value of the easement based upon current land sales, assessed values, and other indicators of land value relevant to your property, and in compliance with Service policy. You will be provided a written offer in a document called a Statement of Just Compensation. The statement will describe the property encumbered by the easement and the amount of the payment.

What is the method payment?
A single lump-sum payment, in of 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 by the landowner(s). The Service pays to record the easement.


If the Proposed Land is Mortgaged - Back to section top

What if I have a mortgage on the property?
In most cases, this will not affect the easement transaction. If it is necessary to have the mortgage holder give consent to the easement, we will ask the mortgage holder to sign an agreement known as a subordination agreement, which subordinates the rights of the mortgage to those of the easement.

Who pays for the subordination agreement?
If there is a charge, you will need to pay for it, then file a claim for reimbursement from the Government.

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.


Taxes - Back to section top

What about income taxes?
The Service Finance Center will issue an IRS Form 1099-S at the end of the calendar year. The payment should be reported on your Federal income tax return, but may not be taxable. Consult your tax attorney or accountant for further guidance.


Potential Problems - Back to section top

What if I have problems with my easement wetland?
If a covered wetland causes flooding to buildings or roads, or results in other health and safety problems during high water years, contact your Service representative to work out a solution. Usually, a temporary drain is allowed to lower wetlands to a safe level. This is only allowed under extenuating circumstances, and it is important to remember that a violation of easement terms may result in legal prosecution, fines, and restitution.

Will the Service be monitoring my land after the agreement is signed?
Although the Service is required to monitor these easements, unless you are in violation of the agreement, you probably will not see a Service representative on your land. To avoid easement violations, contact your local Service representative before performing any alterations within the basin of easement wetlands.

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Understanding Grassland Easements »

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Land Qualifications | Landowner Use and Other Rights | The Easement Process | The Payment Process | If the Proposed Easement Land is Mortgaged | Taxes | Potential Problems

Photo of a grassland. Credit: David Allen
Grassland. Photo Credit: David Allen.

What is a Grassland Easement?
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 you to permanently keep your 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. Land covered by a grassland easement may not be cultivated. Mowing, haying, and grass seed harvesting must be delayed until after July 15 each year. This restriction is to help grassland nesting species, such as ducks and pheasants, complete their nesting before the grass is disturbed. Grazing is not restricted in any way.

Why protect grasslands?
Vast 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 your grandchildren and future generations to enjoy.


Land Qualifications - Back to section top

Does any land qualify for a grassland easement?
No. The 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.

What about farm sites, feed lots, etc.?
Existing farm sites are excluded from grassland easements. Future feed lots and other improvements may be allowed, and if approved, will require prior Service approval.


Landowner Use and Other Rights- Back to section top

Will the grassland easement affect my eligibility in USDA farm programs?
The easement may limit participation in USDA programs where base acres of cropland are used to determine program eligibility, such as enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program. Contact your local Farm Service Agency for information regarding eligibility.

Are grazing and haying permitted?
Yes. Grazing is permitted anytime. Haying is only allowed after July 15 of each year to give wildlife species which nest in grasslands, such as ducks, pheasants, and songbirds, a chance to raise their young.

Who controls noxious weeds and pests?
As the landowner, you are responsible for noxious weed and pest control. Mowing before July 15 to control weeds is prohibited without prior written approval by the Service.

Will my mineral rights be affected?
No. Subsurface rights, such as oil, gas, and mineral, are not affected. However, consult your local Service representative to avoid potential easement violation situations.

Will hunting and trapping rights on my land be affected?
No. You maintain the right to open or close your lands to hunting and trapping.


The Easement Process - Back to section top

How do I apply for the program and begin the process?
Simply call the contact person or office on the back of 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 last?
This is a permanent (perpetual) agreement between the Service and all present and future landowners.

What happens before the easement is accepted?
The Service obtains title information 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 review the case and furnish an opinion of title. If the opinion indicates any title defects, we will assist you in correcting them before the Service accepts the easement. The process usually takes about 6 to 9 months.

What happens after the easement is accepted?
A letter, sent by certified mail, will inform you that the easement has been accepted and is being recorded at the county courthouse. A copy of the easement will be included with the certified letter.


The Payment Process - Back to section top

How is the payment determined?
A Service realty specialist estimates the value of the easement based on the assessed value of your land.

What is the method payment?
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?
A payment is usually made within 6 to 9 months after the easement has been signed.


If the Proposed Easement Land is Mortgaged - Back to section top

What if I have a mortgage on the property?
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 he easement.

Who pays for the subordination agreement?
If there is a charge, you will need to pay for it, then file a claim for reimbursement from the Government.


Taxes - Back to section top

What about income taxes?
The Service Finance Center will issue an IRS Form 1099-S at the end of the calendar year. The payment should be reported on your Federal income tax return, but may not be taxable. Consult your tax attorney or accountant for further guidance.


Potential Problems - Back to section top

What if the quality of the grassland easement deteriorates?
A written permit may be obtained from your Service representative to replant or rejuvenate tame grassland habitat. Grasses suitable to your 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.

Will the Service be monitoring my land after the agreement is signed?
Although the Service is required to monitor these contracts, unless you are in violation of the agreement, you probably will not see a Service representative on your land. To avoid easement violations, contact your local Service representative before manipulating permanent vegetative cover on easement lands. Violation of easement terms may result in legal prosecution, fines, and restitution.

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: April 28, 2015
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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