Wetland Easements


Wetland easements protect wetland areas from being drained, filled, leveled, or burned. They provide critical habitat for migratory birds and other resident wildlife. Private landowners receive a one-time payment for permanently protecting the wetland area. When they dry up naturally, the wetland area can be farmed, hayed, or grazed.

Why protect wetlands?

Wetlands benefit people and wildlife. By holding water, wetlands reduce erosion, flooding, and runoff. They recharge groundwater supplies and provide hay for livestock in dry years. Wetlands also provide important habitat for many kinds of wildlife, including waterfowl, other migratory birds, pheasants, and deer.

Unfortunately, more than half of the nation’s wetlands have been lost since the 1800s. Protecting existing wetlands benefits people and helps ensure wildlife will be here for future generations to enjoy.

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, that pays you, the landowner, to permanently protect the wetland areas on your property.

Wetland areas covered by an easement cannot be drained, filled, leveled, or burned. When these wetland areas dry up naturally, they can be farmed, hayed, or grazed. Wetland areas covered by an easement are mapped and a copy of the easement and maps are sent to you. No signs are placed on your property.

Does any land qualify for a wetland easement?

No. The property must have wetlands of value to waterfowl and other migratory birds. The land must also be located in a county approved for conservation easements in the Prairie Pothole Region of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

How much of my land would be covered by the easement?

During the easement application process, Service staff works with you to come up with a mutually agreed upon easement size and location. The wetland areas in the easement are mapped and included as Exhibit A in the easement contract. The easement covers certain existing wetlands or those which recur over time through natural causes. Impoundments by dams or dikes do not qualify. Enforcement of the easement terms is limited to the mapped wetland areas.

What happens with wetlands that have already been drained?

Wetlands already drained are not covered by the provisions of the easement unless the ditch is filled and the wetlands are restored. Funding and technical assistance to complete this work is available through the Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.

How will the easement affect my farming of the protected wetland areas?

The easement imposes no restrictions on farming practices such as grazing, haying, plowing, working, or cropping wetlands when they are dry by natural causes. When you have an established easement, contact the local wetland management district manager prior to conducting practices such as tiling, ditching, and pumping that may inadvertently drain a protected wetland area.

Will the easement affect hunting and trapping rights on my land?

No. Hunting and trapping rights are not affected by the easement.

Will the easement affect my mineral rights?

No. Subsurface rights are not affected by the easement. Still, remember that the easement prohibits burning, draining, filling, and leveling of the wetland areas. Contact the local District manager prior to conducting activities that may inadvertently result in non-compliance with the easement.

Who should I contact with additional questions?

Contact the District office in which your land is located. Contacts can be found in the menu on the left.