Rounds introduces bill to change wetlands determinations
Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., last week introduced legislation to change the Agriculture Department Natural Resources Conservation Service’s wetland determination process.
Rounds said the legislation would guarantee landowners a wetland redetermination process, reform the NRCS appeals process and create a state oversight committee comprising local farmers and ranchers to review the NRCS’ determination process.
Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. are cosponsors of the bill.
“South Dakota’s farmers, ranchers and landowners know their land better than anyone else,” said Rounds. “They’re on the frontlines of conservation efforts to make certain our natural resources are available for future generations. They don’t need the heavy-hand of government interfering with their ability to use and manage their own land.”
“Over the last few years, we’ve worked with South Dakotans who are facing arbitrary and — sometimes — what appears to be punitive penalties from the NRCS,” Rounds said.
“In South Dakota, we know that the NRCS has made retroactive wetland determinations, levied large and unfair monetary fines and the landowner has little or no recourse. The reforms I’ve introduced modify some of the NRCS’s compliance rules in a manner that works with landowners, gives them more control over their land and removes unnecessary, often unfair barriers and penalties.”
“The NRCS was created to work with farmers and ranchers to help them improve, protect and conserve their land and natural resources. Over time, it has veered far from that core mission, morphing into an overreaching agency that makes important, heavy-handed decisions about South Dakota producers land using questionable methods and rationale. This has led to an increase in farmers and ranchers in South Dakota and across the country increasingly battling the NRCS on wetland determinations.”
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall endosed the bill. “The plain truth is that farmers have been treated unfairly by NRCS when trying to be good stewards of the land,” Duvall said.
“AFBF stood up for them by pressing for changes to conservation compliance programs, and we applaud Sen. Rounds for introducing the NRCS Wetland Compliance and Appeals Reform Act. It would institute needed reforms, and although sweeping in nature in its current form, it takes important steps toward creating a fair and understandable process for America’s farmers.”
South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal said, “The NRCS has a well-documented history in South Dakota of denying due process and taking a heavy-handed approach with our farmers.”
“I thank Sen. Rounds for introducing NRCS compliance reform legislation, which will put our farmers and landowners on a more equal footing when it comes to making wetland determinations. An overhaul of the NRCS appeals and determination process is long overdue.” ❖
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