Grassland Easements

Grassland Conversion 512x219

Grassland easements protect both large and small tracts of grass from tillage. Private landowners receive a one time payment for the permanent protection of their grasslands. Grassland easements provide critical habitat for migratory birds and other resident wildlife.


Common Questions in Regards to Grassland Easements:

 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 landowners to permanently keep their land(s) in grass. Many landowners never plan on putting their land into crop production. Land protected by a grassland easement may not be cultivated. Haying and mowing 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 cycle. Grazing is not restricted in any way. Grazing rotations are encouraged to help promote quality stands of grass and soil health. A wetland easement is usually placed on the tract of land in conjunction with the grassland easement.  

 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 here for future generations to enjoy.  

Land Qualifications  

 Does any land qualify for a grassland easement?  

No. The property must lie within an approved county (most of Eastern South Dakota) and have potential value to waterfowl and grassland birds. Highest priority lands are large tracts of grassland with high wetland densities, native prairie, or soils most likely to be converted to cropland.   

 What about farm sites, feed lots, etc.? 

Existing farm sites and feed lots are excluded from grassland easements. The Service woks with landowners to locate any areas that may be developed in the future. If any, these sites will also be excluded from the easement.  

Landowner Use and Other Rights   

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. This gives wildlife species who nest in grasslands a chance to complete their nesting cycle and raise their young. 

Who controls noxious weeds and pests?  

As the landowner, you are responsible for noxious weed and pest control in accordance with state and local laws. 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 with 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 

 How do I apply for the program and begin the process?   

Simply call the wetland management district that manages the county in which your land is located.  The Huron WMD manages easements in Beadle, Sanborn, Jerauld, Hughes, Hand, Hyde, Buffalo, and Sully Counties. The Sand Lake WMD lies to the North of the Huron WMD. The Waubay WMD lies to the NE of the WMD, the Madison WMD lies to the East and Lake Andes WMD lies to the south. Wetland Management Districts are only located east of the Missouri River in South Dakota. If you are interested in an easement offer, you can contact the Huron WMD at (605)352-5894 or the Huron Wetland Acquisition Office at (605)353-7014. A Service Easement Specialist or Realty Specialist, will further explain the program and answer any questions you may have. An evaluation of your property will be set up 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  

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 of 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 Statement of Just Compensation, will be sent to the landowner. 

 When will I be paid?  

 A payment is usually made within 6 to 12 months after the easement has been signed. 

 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 

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  

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. Farming of lands that do not have previous farming history (native grasslands) will not be allowed. Shelterbelts must be approved by a permit obtained from the management district. 

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 potential violation of the agreement, you 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. 

 Additional Information   

Equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from programs and activities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is available to all individuals regardless of physical or mental ability. Dial 711 for a free connection to the State relay service for TTY and voice calls to and from the speech and hearing impaired. For more information or to address accessibility needs, please contact the staff at the Huron Wetland Management District at 605-352-5894 , or the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Equal Opportunity, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20240.