February 5, 2019

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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

Re: Docket Number NRCS-2018-0010; Comments on the NRCS Interim Rule on Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation (7 CFR Part 12)

The undersigned organizations, representing conservation, water, and agriculture organizations, write to express our concerns about the impacts of the interim final rule on wetland determinations. In particular, we are concerned that this rule promotes the exclusion of seasonal wetlands from the Farm Bill’s wetland conservation compliance safeguards, encouraging additional wetland drainage in the Prairie Pothole Region and beyond. Given these concerns, we urge USDA to withdraw the interim final rule and instead propose a rule that promotes accurate wetland determinations that include all seasonal wetlands and one that is subject to robust environmental review and public comment.

Over its 30 year history, conservation compliance has saved billions of tons of soil from erosion and protected millions of wetland acres, resulting in healthier soil, better wildlife habitat, and cleaner rivers, lakes, and streams. It is critical that any actions that NRCS takes related to wetland conservation compliance are done in a manner that ensures that the legacy of conservation compliance is not diminished. Unfortunately, this interim final rule undermines protections for seasonal wetlands, encouraging wetland drainage and ignores the letter and spirit of the Farm Bill wetland conservation compliance provisions. Our major concerns are that:

  • The rule systematically excludes seasonal wetlands from wetland maps that form the basis for producer compliance. Of particular concern is the rule’s certification of old (pre-1996) wetland determinations that have consistently excluded seasonal wetlands, have been shown to under- identify wetlands by as much as 75%, and that were for years considered too inaccurate to be used.1
  • The rule relies on aerial imagery from the hottest time of the year (July/August), when many seasonal wetlands have dried out. Seasonal wetlands fill early in the spring, which is when they provide their most important flood storage and wildlife benefits, particularly for migrating and nesting waterfowl. For example, an analysis of three decades worth of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service waterfowl and pond surveys in eastern South Dakota, the heart of the Prairie Pothole region, found that the number of wetland basins containing water that show up in July surveys was 73% lower than in May surveys. Any NRCS wetland determination rule should account for the use of summer imagery and promote the use of and investments in accurate spring imagery.
  • The rule relies on precipitation data from a historically dry period (1971-2000), further limiting the number and size of seasonal wetlands subject to the wetland conservation compliance requirements. Coupled with the mid-summer imagery, this focus on drier rather than wetter conditions significantly skews wetland maps towards excluding seasonal wetlands. Even more concerning is that there has been no scientific analysis of the impacts of using this outdated information.

1 USDA Office of Inspector General Audit Report 10601-0003-31; January 2018. https://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/10601-0003-31.pdf

  • There has been inadequate analysis of the environmental impacts of the rule, including the potential for impacts on endangered species.

We thank you for the opportunity to provide input into this rulemaking, and for your consideration of the above comments. Given these concerns, we urge USDA to withdraw the interim final rule and instead propose a rule that promotes accurate wetland determinations that include all seasonal wetlands and one that is subject to robust environmental review and public comment.


American Bird Conservancy Apalachicola Riverkeeper Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis Bird Conservation Network Center for a Sustainable Coast Center for Food Safety Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage Chicago Audubon Society

Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge Clean River Alliance

Clean Water Action Committ on the Middle Fork

Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Defenders of Wildlife

Delta Chapter, Sierra Club (Louisiana) Earthjustice


Endangered Habitats League Environmental Law & Policy Center Environmental Working Group Florida Wildlife Federation

Food & Water Watch Friends of Black Bayou, Inc. Friends of Blackwater, Inc. Friends of the Central Sands

Friends of the Santa Clara River Georgia Wildlife Federation Gulf Restoration Network

Illinois Council of Trout Unlimited

Illinois Division of the Izaak Walton League of America Illinois Ornithological Society (IOS)

Indiana Sportsmen’s Roundtable Indiana Wildlife Federation Iowa Audubon

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Izaak Walton League of America

Izaak Walton League of America – Indiana Division

Izaak Walton League of America – National Great Lakes Committee

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future Kansas Wildlife Federation

Kentucky Waterways Alliance Lake Champlain Committee Lake Erie Waterkeeper

Los Angeles Audubon Society Louisiana Audubon Council Maryland Ornithological Society Minnesota Conservation Federation Mississippi River Collaborative

Missouri Coalition for the Environment

Monongalia County, WV, Izaak Walton League of America Montana Wildlife Federation

National Audubon Society

National Latino Farmers & Ranchers National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition National Wildlife Federation

Natural Resources Defense Council North Dakota Wildlife Federation NYC H20

Ohio River Foundation

Ohio Environmental Council Prairie Rivers Network River Network

Rural Coalition

Salem Audubon Society Sierra Club

South Dakota Wildlife Federation Southern Maryland Audubon Society

Southwestern Wisconsin Chapter, Izaak Walton League of America Sycamore Audubon Society

Tennessee Clean Water Network Tennessee Ornithological Society

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy The River Project

The Wetlands Initiative

Union of Concerned Scientists Virginia Conservation Network Waterkeeper Alliance

West Virginia Division, Izaak Walton League of America Wild Farm Alliance

WildEarth Guardians Winyah Rivers Alliance

Wisconsin Division, Izaak Walton League of America World Wildlife Fund

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