Landowners and local governments, as well as farmers or ranchers in Utah, are being adversely affected by confusing federal wetland regulations enforced by four separate agencies of the U.S. government.
The lack of a coordinated approach has resulted in severe problems for many farmers. Certain parcels of land that have been farmed for many years cannot now be used for crops because of new and very confusing wetlands definitions.In addition, other landowners who were trying to improve their property, and even local governments wanting to make better use of questionable areas, have had federal agencies "manage" their property by applying new wetland definitions.
In one instance, a Davis County farmer was prevented from cleaning out drains on his farmland after they became filled with silt and plant material during the '82-'86 wet cycle. Water began to stand on the farmer's property and the land became somewhat marshy as excess water had nowhere to go.
This farmer simply wanted to return his land to the agricultural production historically carried out there. However, the Army Corps of Engineers has refused to allow him to clean his drains as it would alter a "wetland."
In another instance, a Utah County farmer was forced to haul in fill during the aforementioned wet cycle to gain access to farmland separated from a road by the rising Utah Lake. When the lake receded, the fill remained, high and dry. But now the Corps wants this farmer to haul out the fill, saying it violates wetlands regulations.
These are only a few of the cases in Utah where bureaucratic interpretation of the wetlands regulations has superseded constitutionally protected private property rights.
Conserving true wetlands areas while protecting private property rights of farmers and other landowners will be best accomplished by changes in our federal laws.
The Farm Bureau has been working with members of Congress to write legislation that provides a consistent and realistic definition of wetlands.
This legislation provides just compensation to property owners if their land is "taken" by regulatory action.
Most significantly, the legislation will actually provide stricter regulation of true wetlands than current law, while at the same time freeing up land which is not truly a wetland.
It is legislation that protects the environment while simultaneously protecting private property rights.
More than 100 members of Congress, including Utah's 1st District Congressman Jim Hansen, have become cosponsors of the wetlands bill, and a companion piece of legislation is about to be filed in the U.S. Senate. But much more support from many sectors will be necessary if we are to have a common-sense approach to defining wetlands.
We need a law that protects landowners from having the use of their land being arbitrarily and unfairly controlled by agencies of our federal government.
We support the protection of bona fide wetlands - true swamps, marshes and bogs, but not the imposition of wetlands regulations on farmland or open spaces temporarily made wet by flooding, too much irrigation or leaking irrigation structures.
Let's make sure the federal government preserves the rights of all landowners as zealously as it is pursuing the protection of America's wetlands.