Cramer Brings Farmers and Fish & Wildlife Service Together at Town Hall
DEVILS LAKE, ND – Congressman Kevin Cramer hosted a Q & A Town Hall with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in Devils Lake today to give local farmers the opportunity to ask questions and share their experiences with the Wetland Easement Program.
During his time in Congress, Cramer has heard from North Dakota farmers on frustrations and concerns with the wetland program. Cramer’s intention for convening the town hall was to restart the conversation on these longstanding issues and work towards improving management of these wetlands to enhance productivity of the land while also meeting conservation goals.
“My job in these circumstances is to listen – listen to the farmers, the landowners, and the FWS officials on how we can make this program better," said Cramer. "FWS needs to be reigned in. It is clear the agency has overreached its authority and in many cases bullied landowners. We must harmonize laws and rules and work toward a unified conservation plan. From here I intend to draft language that can be used in rule making, legislation and agency guidance that honors private property rights and sound conservation."
Waterfowl Production Area easements are legal agreements signed between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and landowners to permanently protect wetlands. Wetlands covered by an easement cannot be drained, filled, leveled, or burned. When these wetlands dry up naturally, they can be farmed, grazed, or hayed.
Over the decades, confusion over what land is protected and enforcement issues have caused concerns among local farmers. Folks attending the town hall raised questions about being able to improve soil health on their land, being provided with detailed maps, differences between FWS and NRCS management, and the lack of a reasonable appeal process for landowners. They also discussed intimidating experiences with FWS law enforcement. Constituents also offered solutions to improve the program Congressman Cramer will take to Washington.
Congressman Cramer included report language acknowledging the concerns of easement issues in North Dakota in the Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations passed on September 14. Cramer’s report language directs the FWS to follow North Dakota law on wetland easements.
Watch the full discussion here.