16 U.S. Code § 3865c - Wetland reserve easements
(a) Availability of assistance
The Secretary shall provide assistance to owners of eligible land to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands through—
(1) Method of enrollment
The Secretary shall enroll eligible land under this section through the use of—
(A) Ineligible land
The Secretary may not acquire easements on—
(i) land established to trees under the conservation reserve program, except in cases where the Secretary determines it would further the purposes of this section; and
(B) Changes in ownership
No wetland reserve easement shall be created on land that has changed ownership during the preceding 24-month period unless—
(i) the new ownership was acquired by will or succession as a result of the death of the previous owner;
(3) Evaluation and ranking of offers
The Secretary shall establish evaluation and ranking criteria for offers from landowners under this section to maximize the benefit of Federal investment under the program.
When evaluating offers from landowners, the Secretary may consider—
(i) the conservation benefits of obtaining a wetland reserve easement, including the potential environmental benefits if the land was removed from agricultural production;
(ii) the cost effectiveness of each wetland reserve easement, so as to maximize the environmental benefits per dollar expended;
(iii) whether the landowner or another person is offering to contribute financially to the cost of the wetland reserve easement to leverage Federal funds; and
To be eligible to place eligible land into the program through a wetland reserve easement, the owner of such land shall enter into an agreement with the Secretary to—
(B) authorize the implementation of a wetland reserve easement plan developed for the eligible land under subsection (f);
(C) create and record an appropriate deed restriction in accordance with applicable State law to reflect the easement agreed to;
(D) provide a written statement of consent to such easement signed by those holding a security interest in the land;
(5) Terms and conditions of easement
(A) In general
A wetland reserve easement shall include terms and conditions that—
(I) repairs, improvements, and inspections on the land that are necessary to maintain existing public drainage systems; and
(I) the alteration of wildlife habitat and other natural features of such land, unless specifically authorized by the Secretary;
(II) the spraying of such land with chemicals or the mowing of such land, except where such spraying or mowing is authorized by the Secretary or is necessary—
(III) any activities to be carried out on the owner’s or successor’s land that is immediately adjacent to, and functionally related to, the land that is subject to the easement if such activities will alter, degrade, or otherwise diminish the functional value of the eligible land; and
On the violation of a term or condition of a wetland reserve easement, the wetland reserve easement shall remain in force and the Secretary may require the owner to refund all or part of any payments received by the owner under the program, with interest on the payments as determined appropriate by the Secretary.
(C) Compatible uses
Land subject to a wetland reserve easement may be used for compatible economic uses, including such activities as hunting and fishing, managed timber harvest, or periodic haying or grazing, if such use is specifically permitted by the wetland reserve easement plan developed for the land under subsection (f) and is consistent with the long-term protection and enhancement of the wetland resources for which the easement was established.
(D) Reservation of grazing rights
The Secretary may include in the terms and conditions of a wetland reserve easement a provision under which the owner reserves grazing rights if—
(i) the Secretary determines that the reservation and use of the grazing rights—
(II) is consistent with the historical natural uses of the land and the long-term protection and enhancement goals for which the easement was established; and
(i) Permanent easements The Secretary shall pay as compensation for a permanent wetland reserve easement acquired under the program an amount necessary to encourage enrollment in the program, based on the lowest of—
(I) the fair market value of the land, as determined by the Secretary, using the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice or an areawide market analysis or survey;
(II) the amount corresponding to a geographical cap, as determined by the Secretary in regulations; or
(B) Form of payment
Compensation for a wetland reserve easement shall be provided by the Secretary in the form of a cash payment, in an amount determined under subparagraph (A).
(C) Payment schedule
(i) Easements valued at $500,000 or less For wetland reserve easements valued at $500,000 or less, the Secretary may provide payments in not more than 10 annual payments.
(ii) Easements valued at more than $500,000 For wetland reserve easements valued at more than $500,000, the Secretary may provide payments in at least 5, but not more than 10 annual payments, except that, if the Secretary determines it would further the purposes of the program, the Secretary may make a lump-sum payment for such an easement.
(c) Easement restoration
(1) In general
The Secretary shall provide financial assistance to owners of eligible land to carry out the establishment of conservation measures and practices and protect wetland functions and values, including necessary maintenance activities, as set forth in a wetland reserve easement plan developed for the eligible land under subsection (f).
The Secretary shall—
(A) in the case of a permanent wetland reserve easement, pay an amount that is not less than 75 percent, but not more than 100 percent, of the eligible costs, as determined by the Secretary; and
(d) Technical assistance
(1) In general
The Secretary shall assist owners in complying with the terms and conditions of a wetland reserve easement.
(2) Contracts or agreements
The Secretary may enter into 1 or more contracts with private entities or agreements with a State, nongovernmental organization, or Indian tribe to carry out necessary restoration, enhancement, or maintenance of a wetland reserve easement if the Secretary determines that the contract or agreement will advance the purposes of the program.
(e) Wetland reserve enhancement option
The Secretary may enter into 1 or more agreements with a State (including a political subdivision or agency of a State), nongovernmental organization, or Indian tribe to carry out a special wetland reserve enhancement option that the Secretary determines would advance the purposes of program.
(1) Wetland reserve easement plan
The Secretary shall develop a wetland reserve easement plan for any eligible land subject to a wetland reserve easement, which shall include practices and activities necessary to restore, protect, enhance, and maintain the enrolled land.
(2) Delegation of easement administration
(A) In general
The Secretary may delegate any of the management, monitoring, and enforcement responsibilities of the Secretary under this section to other Federal or State agencies that have the appropriate authority, expertise, and resources necessary to carry out such delegated responsibilities, or to conservation organizations if the Secretary determines the organization has similar expertise and resources.
(A) Timing of payments
The Secretary shall provide payment for obligations incurred by the Secretary under this section—
(i) with respect to any easement restoration obligation under subsection (c), as soon as possible after the obligation is incurred; and
(B) Payments to others
If an owner who is entitled to a payment under this section dies, becomes incompetent, is otherwise unable to receive such payment, or is succeeded by another person or entity who renders or completes the required performance, the Secretary shall make such payment, in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary and without regard to any other provision of law, in such manner as the Secretary determines is fair and reasonable in light of all of the circumstances.
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