USDA Seeks Input on Wetland Determination

Farmers are reminded that updated guidelines for wetland determinations are posted and available for public input. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to remind the public that the 60-day comment period for the updated guidance is open through February 5. This opportunity to comment is not impacted by the lapse in appropriations. Those interested in participating are encouraged to review and comment on the interim final rule on the Federal Register.

Comments may be submitted using any of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.govFollow the instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attention: National Leader for Wetland and Highly Erodible Land Conservation, USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 1400 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20250.

Upon conclusion of the public comment period, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will evaluate and respond to all substantive comments. USDA will then decide on a schedule for publishing a final rule.

“Our goal is to improve the consistency and predictability of how NRCS makes wetland determinations,” said NRCS Chief Matt Lohr. “The updates do not change the definition of a wetland for USDA program participation purposes, but rather provide greater clarity and uniformity in how NRCS makes determinations nationwide.”

Wetland determinations are part of conservation compliance outlined in the Farm Bill. To be eligible for USDA programs and federal crop insurance, producers must be compliant.

Updates to the conservation compliance provisions include:

  • Identifying that determinations will rely on precipitation data from 1971-2000. Though data and average rainfall have varied over time, using this specific dataset makes determinations more predictable.
  • Clarifying the certification status of previously completed wetland determinations, including those completed 1990-1996.
  • Adding definitions for playas, potholes and pocosins. These terms are found in current policy, but they are added to the regulation for transparency.
  • Clarifying that determinations do not have to cover the entire farm tract, but only the area of the farm on which a producer is planning to make changes.
  • Establishing that NRCS can now assess offsite, impacts on neighboring wetlands when producers request minimal effects exemptions. For those neighboring wetlands, NRCS can now do the evaluations off-site using aerial photography and other resources.
  • Incorporating criteria to better reflect on-field observations of hydrology, rather than basing determinations strictly on a set number of days.

These updates were based on responses to comments received as part of the 2015 regulatory review process. Comments included requesting improved timeliness and customer service in administering the wetland conservation provisions and ensuring these provisions are consistent with the statute.

Learn more about conservation compliance on the NRCS website.

Source: Morning Ag Clips

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