Grassland Easement Program

North Dakota landowners in the so-called "prairie pothole" region, famous for its duck production, can enroll native prairie or expired Conservation Reserve Program land in the Fish and Wildlife Service's Grassland Easement Program.

Ducks Unlimited will pay the landowners for carbon being stored in the soil and then will sell those carbon credits to an equity fund that will, in turn, sell them to companies looking to offset carbon dioxide emissions that are blamed for global warming.

"Climate change will have a significant impact on ducks. In addition, ducks need large expanses of grassland for successful nesting," said Jim Ringelman, Ducks Unlimited's conservation programs director for North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

Landowners who take part in the program will get a payment for the perpetual grassland easement based on the current value of the land, along with a separate payment for the carbon rights. Ringelman said that payment is based on the Chicago Climate Exchange, a private agency that trades greenhouse gases and other pollutants just as other exchanges trade such commodities as crops and livestock. Right now the payment would be about $36 per acre.

Landowners who sign the easements are prohibited from plowing the land. Turning up the soil would release carbon dioxide into the air and destroy duck habitat.


If you own land and use it for ranching, haying, grass seed harvest, hunting or any other purpose that involves grass cover you can be paid to keep using the land the way you are now. The Devils Lake Wetland Management District office is seeking interested individuals who may wish to enroll their land into our grassland easement program. Currently we have funding available to protect and/or restore grasslands and wetlands. We are NOT asking you to idle your land or give up access rights, as this program still allows you much flexibility on how you manage and use your land.


This easement will pay you a one time payment of no less than 35% of the market value of your enrolled land. If you don't already have a wetland easement on the property you can be paid for a wetland easement as well which will pay an additional sum for just the wetland acres.

There is often concern about paying taxes on the one time lump sum payment. This full payment is not taxed as income. It is taxed more similar to capital gains. Consult your tax advisor for more specifics on how this may affect you.

Restrictions/Provisions of the Easement

In exchange for the payment, the grassland easement provides perpetual protection for both the grasslands and wetlands regardless of any future transfer of ownership. Once the easement is established the grass can never be broken and any wetlands under the easement can not be drained or filled. If the enrolled land is not already planted in grass, we will pay all costs to plant it in grass as well as all costs to restore any drained wetlands on the easement. If the land is currently in grass but the grass is in poor condition we can pay the cost to replant the grass. We will provide either native or tame grass mixtures optimized for your soil type and land usage.

As mentioned above this is not an idling program. The land can still be used for any compatible purposes such as grazing, haying, grass seed harvest, hunting etc, as long as the vegetative cover is not broken. Grazing is not restricted. Haying, mowing, grass seed harvest or any other removal of the grass cover is restricted to after July 15 to provide habitat for nesting waterfowl and other wildlife. All hunting and access rights are maintained by the land owner. Taxes are still paid by the landowner. Weed control or other habitat management is still the responsibility of the landowner. Herbicide application for weed control is not restricted, however and management by cutting, clipping or burning before July 15th would require a permit by the USFWS office before the action takes place. Burning will require a permit regardless of the time of year it takes place.

Eligibility and Application Process

We are looking for large continuous blocks of existing grass or cropland to be converted to grass. We would like to enroll 160 acre blocks or larger. The larger the enrollment the more likely it will be accepted. If you pursue enrollment in a grassland easement, the land will be evaluated based on potential wildlife habitat quality including wetlands and proximity to other existing and protected grassland. If accepted, the project will be submitted to our reality office where your land will be appraised based on comparable fair market land values. The reality office will then send you the appraisal and what we can offer you for the grass easement. If you accept the offer, the easement contract will be signed and the payment will be made. If there is any grass planting to be done or wetland restoration the local Partners for Fish and Wildlife office will work with you to finish the project as soon as possible.

Contact Grassland Easement Program

Scott Ralston
221 2nd St. NW
Devils Lake, North Dakota  58301
Phone: 701-662-8611 (#322)


Service Area

National Program

Office Locaters

To request additions or corrections to this entry email the Administrator