Grass in wetland easements eligible for hay in drought stricken counties

Large bale of hay

To help with livestock feed and forage shortages, Missouri landowners can apply to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to cut hay on up to 50 percent of the grass areas within their wetland easements located in drought-designated counties. Eligible counties are those with drought conditions rated severe (D2) or extreme (D3) in the U.S. Drought Monitor Report which is available online at droughtmonitor.unl.edu.

NRCS’ Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program purchases easements from landowners in exchange for their commitment to maintaining areas as wetlands. NRCS estimates that up to 10,000 acres are eligible for haying. More acres could become eligible if drought conditions worsen in other counties.

State Conservationist J.R. Flores said cutting hay on WRE easements will be allowed until August 31, but all bales must be removed from those areas by September 15. Flores emphasized that grazing is not permitted in the areas covered by WRE easements because of the damage that livestock access can cause to wetlands.

“Normally, cutting hay is prohibited within WRE easement areas, but during this critical time, Missouri livestock producers need access to all forage resources at their disposal,” Flores said.

Chris Hamilton, the NRCS acting assistant state conservationist for water resources, said that haying is temporarily authorized for portions of easements that were planned to be kept herbaceous. However, haying is not permitted in the portions of the easements which normally make up the pools of water intended to benefit migratory birds.

“Because of the drought, most of the pools are now dry, but we still need to protect those areas so that they will be useful to migratory birds as soon as there is enough rainfall to put water into the pools,” Hamilton said. “Haying those areas could damage the natural wetland plants that will return as soon as they get some water.”

Landowners interested in cutting hay in their WRE easements must first obtain approved Compatible Use Authorizations. Contact your local NRCS office for more information.