New NRCS Rule Subsidizes Destruction of Wetlands

"It will result in taxpayers subsidizing the destruction of some of the most important duck breeding habitat in North America."

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Natural Resources Conservation Service should scrap its interim final rule on wetland determinations and start the process anew, the National Wildlife Federation, Izaak Walton League of America and 83 conservation, water, and agriculture organizations said today in a letter to the agency.

Currently, the Farm Bill’s conservation compliance measures require farmers to refrain from draining wetlands on their properties in order to receive taxpayer-funded crop insurance and other agricultural subsidies. This rule systematically excludes many seasonal wetlands from these requirements.

“This rule upends the historic compact between producers and the public, known as conservation compliance. It will result in taxpayers subsidizing the destruction of some of the most important duck breeding habitat in North America. Specifically, producers will be able to convert many seasonal wetlands to cropland without losing federal subsidies such as crop insurance. The impacts to ducks and other wildlife could be devastating since more than half of North American waterfowl nest in the Prairie Pothole Region of the Northern Great Plains, the region most heavily impacted by the rule,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, wetlands and water resources counsel for the National Wildlife Federation.

Today’s release of the letter was timed to coincide with the end of the public comment period on the rule

The letter cites four main concerns with the new rule:

  • The rule uses inaccurate wetland maps that have been shown to under-identify wetlands by as much as 75 percent.
  • The rule relies on aerial imagery from July and August when many seasonal wetlands, which generally fill in the spring, have already dried out.
  • The rule relies on precipitation data from a historically dry period (1971-2000), that further limits the number and size of seasonal wetlands included.
  • There has been inadequate analysis of the environmental impacts of the rule, including the potential impacts on endangered species.  

The Natural Resources Conservation Service rule compounds the threats to the nation’s valuable wetlands in the Environmental Protection Agency’s current proposal to roll back the scope of streams and wetlands protected by the Clean Water Act.

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