Whether it’s for farming or building new homes, today’s landowners should be extremely cautious of clearing any ground without first checking for the presence of wetlands. Shallow ponds, swamps, and streamside marshes are classic examples of wetlands that most people recognize on sight. But some wetlands, particularly the wooded wetlands prominent throughout Clermont County, are not readily apparent to the untrained eye. Wetlands (except for lands in agricultural production) fall under the jurisdiction of the Army Corp of Engineers (wetlands connected to a navigable waterway) or Ohio EPA (upland or isolated wetlands). Wooded wetlands can be very high quality wetlands because they take so long to grow and develop, and they contain unique habitats (vernal pools) that are critical to many threatened and endangered amphibians. Wetlands also provide enormous benefits to surrounding communities in reducing storm water runoff and downstream flooding and erosion.
Destruction of a regulated wetland by a landowner can result in severe penalties. The landowner could face substantial fines, but foremost, they may be faced with expensive mitigation (restoring or constructing wetlands to offset those destroyed) that can range from $2,000-$20,000 per acre.
From an agricultural standpoint, wetlands that were cleared or drained for farming prior to the 1985 Swampbuster Act, known as “prior converted wetlands,” can continue to be farmed and are not regulated by the Corps or Ohio EPA. However, if these previously drained lands are left fallow for any length of time after 1985, they may revert back to a wetland. Farmers who drain or destroy these reverted wetlands are usually required to restore or re-vegetate the area, or they could be banned from participation in future Farm Bill commodity programs. Also, farmers who clear land that has no history of agricultural production could be in violation of the CORP’s, USDA’s or Ohio EPA’s wetland regulations if wetlands are found to be present. Farmers who are planning to clear or drain any new lands for production should contact their local NRCS or Farm Service Agency first.