U.S. Representatives Michelle Fischbach (MN-07) and Kelly Armstrong (ND) introduced a bill in Congress entitled “Landowners Easement Rights Act” (H.R. 7021). The bill would prevent the Department of the Interior (DOI) from entering into a conservation easement for a term longer than 50 years. The bill also gives existing easement holders the ability to renegotiate or end a perpetual easement that has been in effect for more than 50 years, or authorized prior to 1977.
The DOI initiated a wetland easement program between 1961 and 1977 placing over 1.2 million acres into permeant protection. However, they did not provide landowners with a completed map or survey of the areas protected. This has led to significant conflicts between the landowners and the agency administering the program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The federal agency has been claiming areas that were not originally understood to be included in the program. (See “Permanent control: Wetland Easements Causing Issues For North Dakota Farmers and Ranchers,” Tri-State Livestock News)
North Dakota has conducted four management studies of the FWS easements with no resolution. Throughout this period, many landowners have been unable to use lands that were not originally restricted. However, it is their word against a federal agency that holds the permanent easement and is operating without clear boundaries. U.S. Representatives Fischbach and Armstrong’s legislation would give landowners the ability to end the easement and regain control of their land.
“This legislation would stop permanent landgrabs while providing a mechanism for landowners to resolve easement disputes,” said Congresswoman Fischbach.
“Our legislation will put power back into the hands of farmers and landowners, giving them the ability to renegotiate or buy out U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service easements created before 1977. I am proud to work with Congresswoman Fischbach to end the practice of permanent easements and give North Dakota’s producers the tools and leeway they need to make sound conservation decisions,” said Congressman Armstrong.