NRCS Data Show Significant Gains in Agricultural Wetland Acreage

(Note: Language deception at its 'finest.')
March 31, 2005
Terry Bish:, 202-720-3210 or Fax: 202-720-1564

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Bruce Knight today announced agricultural wetland net gains of about 263,000 acres between 1997 and 2003.

“America’s farmers and ranchers are protecting and restoring wetlands at unprecedented rates,” said Knight. “Between 1997 and 2003, agricultural producers across the nation achieved an average net gain of 44,000 acres of wetlands each and every year. Producers who participate in USDA programs have proven themselves good stewards of the land and NRCS local offices are working closely with them to improve our nation’s wetlands.”

The results are based on new data in the NRCS National Resources Inventory (NRI), an annual statistical survey of natural resource conditions and trends on nonfederal land in the 48 contiguous states.

Nationally, there are 111 million wetland acres on nonfederal lands with most located in the eastern half of the United States, particularly in the Great Lakes states, the Southeast and the Mississippi Delta.

Wetland gains have been most prevalent in the central part of the nation where there are extensive agriculture operations and the highest level of participation in conservation programs authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill.

The NRI data show that since 1997 annual wetland losses on all lands have been on a decline, while annual agricultural wetland gains have been increasing. Between 1997 and 2001 wetland annual gain was 33,000 acres per year. Between 2001 and 2003 the annual loss declined to 30,000 acres while the annual gain nearly doubled to 66,000 acres.

Net Wetlands Change Due to Agriculture, 1997–2003
Time Period Total Net Change Annual Average Net Change
1997 - 2001 +132,000 Acres +33,000 Acres/Year
2001 - 2003 +131,000 Acres +66,000 Acres/Year
1997 - 2003 +263,000 Acres +44,000 Acres/Year

In keeping with USDA’s conservation compliance obligations, NRCS annually randomly selects one percent of producers nationwide to monitor for compliance with the highly erodible lands and wetlands conservation provisions. Additionally, the USDA Office of Inspector General provides a toll-free “hotline” where individuals can report noncompliance at: 800-424-9121. For additional information on reporting USDA program violations go to:

USDA data show very few instances of noncompliance with the wetlands programs and highly erodible lands provisions. NRCS uses an internal web-based system for compliance reports that provides immediate delivery to each field office and allows tracking progress, violations and findings by county on a real time basis. This web-based system has been in use since December 2004.

In order to continue improvements for accuracy in reporting, NRCS has developed a more representative sample of tracts, significantly increased sample size, and modified sample methodology to include only agricultural lands involved in wetlands programs. Violations in wetlands programs are consistently and extremely low with more than 95 percent of participants in compliance of program rules and regulations.

Year Random Sample Tracts * Wetland Tracts Non-compliance
1998 12201 59
1999 11980 98
2000 13264 74
2001 13552 121
2002 11396 60
2003 11672 86
* Approximately 4,000 tracts are added to the random sample for prior year variances, etc.
* These tracts have totaled between 4.5 million and 5 million acres annually.

On Earth Day 2004, President Bush announced an aggressive new national goal, moving beyond a policy of “no net loss” of wetlands, to having an overall increase of wetlands in America each year. The President’s goal is to create, improve and protect at least three million wetland acres over the next five years in order to increase overall wetland acres and quality.

To help achieve this goal, NRCS provides voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs to help private landowners protect and restore wetlands.

Depending on their particular goals, farmers and ranchers can choose from a variety of voluntary programs including the Wetlands Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and Conservation Technical Assistance.

NRCS also provides technical assistance to the Conservation Reserve Program through USDA’s Farm Service Agency.

For more information contact the USDA Service Center nearest you or visit our website at


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