At a hearing today before the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) questioned the Chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Jason Weller about the progress clearing the backlog of undetermined wetlands in South Dakota. Thune also reminded the NRCS Chief of USDA’s responsibility to protect farmers from the potentially harmful Environmental Protection Agency proposed “waters of the U.S.” rule.
“Eastern South Dakota is ground zero in the Prairie Pothole Region, and farmers in this area of the state, especially northeastern South Dakota, have been challenged by flooding off and on over the past several years,” said Thune at today’s hearing. “Many of these farmers, in order to better manage their land and to ensure they meet conservation compliance provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, have requested wetlands determinations from NRCS.” Thune also told the NRCS Chief that the wetlands backlog is a lingering problem that has created great consternation among producers in that area.
Video of Thune’s questions for Chief Weller is available here.
As of September 1st, South Dakota’s certified wetlands determination backlog stood at 2,824 requests. In July, the state and federal NRCS held a meeting in Aberdeen with more than 300 South Dakota producers to discuss this ongoing problem.
Chief Weller shared with Thune that since the July meeting, the backlog of undetermined wetlands in South Dakota decreased by 10 percent, and is currently under 2,600 requests. He also announced South Dakota will receive additional funds, almost $1.5 million, to add staff to reduce the current backlog and that 18 full-time and four part-time staff will be dedicated to wetlands determinations in South Dakota. It is Chief Weller’s goal that the backlog be completely cleared in three years. Producers awaiting determinations should receive a letter updating them on their status in January.
“While I welcome Chief Weller’s update on the progress that has been made over the past few months, the current status of the wetlands determination backlog is unacceptable, and more must be done to meet the needs of South Dakota producers,” said Thune.