Agricultural producers are poised to sign up for the 2008 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In the past, producers have become ineligible for these programs because they had impacted wetlands by clearing land. The USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service wants to help ensure that landowners are eligible for Farm Bill programs by assessing land for not-so-obvious wetlands before they improve their land.

Be aware that clearing trees and stumps to create cropland or pasture could cause the loss of some or all USDA program benefits. Some wooded areas are wetlands or contain areas of wetlands. The 1985 Food Security Act and the Farm Bills that followed prohibit USDA program participants from clearing trees and stumps on wetlands that would make the production of an agricultural commodity possible. USDA program benefits include cost-share monies from Farm Bill Programs, disaster payments, price support payments, and loans.

If you clear trees and stumps on a wetland, you may have to restore the cleared wetland to its original condition to qualify or regain eligibility for USDA program benefits. This may create significant economic hardships from loss of benefits as well as cost of restoration.

“Wetlands” describe several kinds of land on which water plays a crucial role. Because wetlands are now protected by state and federal laws, the focus is on the definition and identification of wetlands. A key element to wetland protection is understanding the laws and regulations that protect wetlands. A wetland is described as an area that is inundated or saturated by ground or surface water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions.

Since you may not recognize potential wetland areas, please contact the local office of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service for a wetland assessment prior to any clearing. You may find your local office in the government listings or in the white pages under USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service of your phone book, or at http://www.tx.nrcs.usda.gov/contact/.