USDA Needs To Fix Wetland Rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed a rule intended to clarify how it maps wetlands subject to the Farm Bill’s "Swampbuster" provision, which prohibits farmers who take Farm Bill subsidies from draining or filling wetlands to grow crops.

Contact USDA today and tell them to use the best technology available, including onsite visits and aerial images taken in the spring when waterfowl is migrating and nesting, to accurately map wetlands protected by Swampbuster.   

Take Action

To submit comments to USDA, simply:

  1. Visit the web page for the Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation rule
  2. Click the COMMENT NOW button at the top right side of the page
  3. Cut and paste the sample comments provided on this page into the comment form and/or add your personal story about the need to protect wetlands
Thank you!

I am very concerned that the USDA’s proposed interim final rule will lock in inadequate procedures to identify wetlands protected by the Farm Bill’s Swampbuster provision. As a result, many wetlands that provide important wildlife, flood control, groundwater recharge, and other benefits in many parts of the country will be left out of Swampbuster protection and will be drained, filled, or otherwise destroyed.

In determining whether an area experiences inundation or saturation during the growing season indicative of a wetland, USDA should specify that spring imagery be considered to reflect the period of the year when wetlands are typically present and provide wildlife and other benefits.

Taxpayers have an interest in these wetland decisions, but we have no ability to appeal a USDA decision that under-counts the number or size of protected wetlands or that ignores functioning wetlands entirely because it is made based on conditions during the driest part of summer. USDA must ensure taxpayer interests are protected by using the best technology available to create the most accurate wetland maps possible.

Learn More

The federal Farm Bill provides $20 billion a year to farmers in commodity payments, crop insurance subsidies, and conservation payments, and billions more in guaranteed farm loans. Farmers who accept a share of these payments must agree to refrain from draining or filling wetlands to grow crops, a provision known as “Swampbuster”, and they must agree to adopt a soil conservation plan if they farm highly erodible land (“Sodbuster”). Both provisions were enacted in 1985.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture helps farmers abide by the rule by giving them maps showing the wetlands on their property protected by Swampbuster. USDA employees sometimes visit the farm and identify wetlands based on the presence of wetland vegetation and wetland soil in a low-lying area that would typically have standing water at least part of the year. Other times, they use aerial photographs, satellite images and other technology to identify and map the wetlands.

However, the aerial photographs USDA has relied on for over 30 years are images taken in July or August that are used to identify planted crops. Those photos, taken in the hottest part of the summer after many seasonal wetlands have dried up, miss many of the seasonal wetlands that provide vital migratory and nesting habitat to ducks, geese, and other wildlife in the spring and other parts of the year.

Today, satellite images and other modern technology are available that will help USDA accurately map wetlands. USDA should use the best technology, along with onsite visits, to ensure that seasonal wetlands that deliver benefits for wildlife are accurately mapped and protected from destruction.