Starting this fall, Minnesota farmers will be able to drain wetlands in exchange for buying wetlands in another location.
A new nonprofit organization will purchase land which will be placed in a wetland mitigation bank administered by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. Farmers will then be able to purchase land from the bank in exchange for wetlands they drain.
Wetland mitigation banks are already used by land developers in the state. Farmers are also eligible to use an existing wetland mitigation bank, but the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist Don Baloun said most choose not to participate because of cost. The new program will be for farmers only and will reduce the cost in an effort to increase participation.
Seventh District U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson said many wetlands in farm fields are wetlands only by definition and have little conservation value.
"You know they're farming it nine years out of 10," he said. "Why not let them mitigate that and get a real wetland that's going to actually do some good for wildlife."
Baloun said he's trying to work with farmers to improve conservation, rather than fight over federal rules.
"Many of the Minnesota farmers have been telling me they're frustrated because they feel like the game keeps changing," he said. "That is not the kind of relationship we should be having."
The first mitigation of farmed wetlands is expected to happen this fall.