Representative Collin C. Peterson and North Dakota Congressman Kelly Armstrong introduced the bipartisan Landowner Easement Rights Act that would place a 50-year limit on conservation easements under the Department of Interior and give owners of existing easements the option to renegotiate, renew, or buy out of the easement.
Following the passage of the Wetlands Loan Act in 1963, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began rapidly acquiring permanent easements without taking time to create corresponding maps. The agency resumed the mapping of easements in 1976. In January 2020, the agency started the process of mapping easements without maps, creating disputes over the easement boundaries with current landowners.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is totally out of control. In the ‘60s and ‘70s farmers were given a few hundred dollars to put conservation easements on land that was often too wet to farm,” Peterson said. “Now the FWS is using these easements without maps to harass farmers and prevent them from farming land that is outside of the original easement. My bill would put an end to FWS permanent easements and give landowners a chance to get out from underneath the thumb of the federal government.”
This bill would allow long-term conservation projects to continue, while offering landowners a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reevaluate the terms of the agreement. This would be especially helpful for landowners in Western Minnesota who have disputed the location of unmapped easements created on their property more than four decades ago.
Upon passage of this act, owners of permanent easements established prior to 1977 without a corresponding map would have the option to renegotiate and renew an easement for a maximum term of 50 years,or buy the easement back from the Department of Interior. Owners of other permanent conservation easements would have the opportunity to renew or remove the easement once it has been in place for 50 years.
In 2019, Congressman Peterson invited the Deputy Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service to Western Minnesota to hear the concerns of landowners directly. His Congressional office has assisted dozens of landowners with FWS easement cases. This legislation continues Congressman Collin Peterson’s efforts to hold federal land management agencies accountable by ensuring they provide fair treatment and compensation to local communities.
The Minnesota Soybean Growers Associated said the bill would be a boon to Minnesota agriculture.
“On behalf of Minnesota’s nearly 28,000 soybean farmers, we applaud Congressman Peterson and Rep. Armstrong for introducing this bipartisan legislation that aims to ease burdens on land owners for future generations,” said Minnesota Soybean Growers Association President Jamie Beyer. “Permanent easements jeopardize future food and fuel production, and farmers need the ability to recover land if – and when – conditions change. It is our most valuable and limited resource, and the conservation easements end up being a vault that can never be opened. This legislation would be a big step in the right direction for Minnesota family farmers.”