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View Full Version : ND farmer defies government by draining wetlands


Susan4
12-01-2008, 11:02 PM
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20081201/ap_on_bi_ge/farm_scene_wetlands_protester



BISMARCK, N.D. Armed with a tractor or a backhoe, Alvin Peterson moves dirt to drain prairie potholes on his land, saying he's putting the land back to the way God intended.

The 78-year-old retired farmer from Lawton, in northeastern North Dakota, has been in hot water with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over wetlands for more than 40 years. The agency had an easement contract with his father for the potholes to house and feed wildlife.

Federal authorities, after dealing for decades with Peterson's pothole-emptying antics, began cracking down on him. Last month and for the second time in four years Peterson was convicted of illegally emptying wetlands. Now he faces stiff fines and jail time.

Peterson remains unfazed.

"I didn't make the waterways, the good Lord did," Peterson said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, along with hunting and conservation groups, view wetlands as an environmental oasis for waterfowl and other creatures. Peterson sees the potholes as a pain, swamping his land with water and weeds and preventing him from raising crops.

"Alvin Peterson is somewhat of a government protester," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Hayden, who has prosecuted Peterson. "He inherited the farm from his father and never liked the easement. He began a system of draining every prairie pothole he could find with his tractor."

Peterson claims his dying father was tricked by government officials into signing an easement in the mid-1960s. He said his father was given a one-time payment of about $4,700 that forever keeps dozens of acres on the farm free of crops and under government ownership.

"They've done this in a sneaky way you'd think you were living in Russia," Peterson said. "I've had trouble with them ever since they stole this land from my father."

Peterson was found guilty on Nov. 11 of two counts of improper drainage of wetlands, after a trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alice Senechal in Grand Forks.

A sentencing date has not been set. Peterson faces up to a year in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Hayden said Peterson will likely be hit with a heavy fine but won't be locked up.

"I will not be requesting that he go to jail," Hayden said. "I see no point in that."

Peterson was first convicted in 2004 of draining four wetlands protected by an easement held by the Fish and Wildlife Service. He was sentenced in 2005 to two years of probation and ordered to restore the four wetlands and pay a $4,000 fine.

Federal wildlife officials, under the protection of armed U.S. marshals, filled in a waterway to re-establish the potholes.

Peterson said the show of force on his farm was unnecessary.

"I'd never hurt a Fish and Wildlife man," Peterson said. "They suffer by living."

Authorities say Peterson drained some of the once-restored wetlands again last year, immediately after his probation expired. Peterson maintained that he was only cleaning out waterways.

"It was plugged up," Peterson said of a 30-foot-wide, 2-foot deep slough. "I got it wide open and running like it's supposed to."

Except for two years he was in the Army in Korea in the 1950s, Peterson said, he has spent his entire life on the Ramsey County farm, northeast of Devils Lake.

"I was born 20 feet from where I'm talking to you on the telephone," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I've walked every foot of this land, poisoning gophers and riding ponies."

He said the government's efforts to create wetlands on his property have failed and that there was more wildlife on the land before the government-established wetlands.

"Those wetlands the ducks can't survive there," Peterson said. "They're so full of cattails, there is no place for them to breathe and no place for them to land."

Lloyd Jones, the Dakotas refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said wetlands provide crucial habitat for wildlife, even with cattails.

Jones, a biologist, has been working on wetlands issues for three decades in the prairie pothole region of the Upper Midwest.

The government began buying conservation easements in 1958, he said. It has spent about $60 million to acquire some 1.5 million acres, of which 900,000 acres are in North Dakota and 500,000 in South Dakota. Montana, Minnesota and Iowa account for the remaining acres, Jones said.

Money for the program comes largely from the sale of federal Duck Stamps.

The program has not been without challenges, both legal and otherwise. In the 1960s, the government funded competing programs one that paid farmers to drain wetlands and one that paid farmers to preserve them, Jones said.

"Preservation won out," he said.

In 1995, two Hope-area farmers were charged with draining three Fish and Wildlife easements the agency purchased on their land. The farmers, brothers Mike and Kerry Johansen, challenged the agency, saying they drained potholes outside the original easements.

Federal authorities argued that the wetlands, which had expanded after years of wet weather, were covered under the original easement. The government lost its case, and charges were dropped.

Jones said disputes over the easements typically are settled through negotiations.

"Ninety-nine percent can be worked out," he said. "Alvin would be the 1 percent. Negotiations with him, unfortunately, have not proven to be successful."

Susan4
12-01-2008, 11:04 PM
"I'd never hurt a Fish and Wildlife man," Peterson said. "They suffer by living."

:lol: and :rolleyes:

Fiddlerdave
12-02-2008, 01:10 AM
So, he gets the land for free, and wants to steal what the original owner was paid for.

If he doesn't like it, why doesn't he go out, buy his own land with or without whatever easements he likes it, and then he can be boss?

Talk about an "entitlement mentality"!

I am not seeing much to respect here.

rc
12-05-2008, 08:43 PM
Yep, if I sell my land to Wal-Mart for them to build a new parking lot, I can't really complain 50 years later if I want to plant corn there. This is true even though parking lots might be unpopular 50 years from now, and it's probably true even though Wal-Mart got the land very cheap.

The only difference here is that he was paid so that the new owner could put up a swamp--I mean wetland. He even got to keep the bare legal title, so that he could go out into the swamp whenever he wanted. But the right to drain the swamp was sold a long time ago.

Susan4
12-07-2008, 10:50 AM
Permanent easements are the culprit here in my mind. Obviously Dad signed off on it when he was needing some cash flow without enough thought for the future. I hate that the government uses them and that people sign them. It will put everyone in a bind eventually and it erodes private property rights.

Fiddlerdave
12-08-2008, 06:21 AM
Permanent easements are the culprit here in my mind. Obviously Dad signed off on it when he was needing some cash flow without enough thought for the future. I hate that the government uses them and that people sign them. It will put everyone in a bind eventually and it erodes private property rights.
How does selling easements to the government or anyone else (everyone uses them) erode private property rights?

It would be NOT allowing easements to be sold by the property owner that would erode private property rights. For instance, the father may have lost the land entirely without the money. Or needed to pay a hospital bill for this ungrateful son's care.

Kids have no "right" to the land their forebears earned, encumbered or unencumbered as the father may have chosen. This guy should count his blessings for the freebies instead of whining. I have heard this kind of complaint too often.

hillsidedigger
12-08-2008, 10:27 AM
$4,700 for an easement of several dozen acres was a lot of money for such a trade in the 1960's, definitely within the range of a liberal fair-market value. Note: $4,700 invested with a return of 5% per year for 45 years would now be worth over $40,000). "you'd think you were living in Russia" - No, in a communist country (like the former USSR), the land could simply be taken with no compensation, fair or otherwise.

The farmer has no legitimate grounds for complaining and the wetlands and pot-holes should remain (which incidentally is more like 'God' actually intended).

Susan4
12-08-2008, 07:52 PM
How does selling easements to the government or anyone else (everyone uses them) erode private property rights?


A permanent (in perpetuity) easement sells all but minimal useage rights whereas nominal ownership, taxes, liability and such remain. So you give up most rights for all generations in one generation for one payment. It's a bad decision on the part of the landowner and a crappy way for the government to do business IMO.

rc
12-09-2008, 12:39 AM
I have no idea whether it was a good deal in this particular case. But if the father had sold the land outright 40 years ago, then nobody would question that the son had no rights. My father sold some farm land 50+ years ago. Come to think of it, I wish he had held on to it. I bet if I looked at the old records, I could make a case that he sold it dirt cheap. It's only fair that I should get it back, right?

Well, that's exactly what happened here. The father sold it to the government 40 years ago. The only difference is that the government did not take 100% of the rights in that property. It took only the right to maintain the land as a swamp--I mean wetland.

If the original owner, or his son, want to use that swamp for whatever purpose they desire, then they are free to do so. They can look at their wetland. They can feed the ducks. They can hunt the ducks. They can lease the land out to hunters. The government never bought the rights to do these things.

There's only one thing the orignal owner and son can't do--they can't drain the swamp.

Personally, I do own a small amount of farm land, and I am quite certain that I would never grant a conservation easement. The reason for this is because, personally, I think productive farmland will be worth much more someday than recreational land will be. However, if the government offered me a million dollars for a conservation easement, I would take it in a heartbeat, because that's a lot more than the land is worth, and I can use some of the money to buy productive land in another area. Maybe I would retain title to my new swamp--I mean wetland, and maybe I wouldn't. But the fact of the matter is that I sold the property, or at least one aspect of the property.

If this guy gets to drain the swamp, then why can't I take back the land my dad sold 50+ years ago?

Susan4
12-09-2008, 08:07 AM
rc: If the government wants the swamp so frikken badly then let them buy it outright fee simple. Let them take on the liabilities, responsibilities and maintenance as well as the rights to keep it a wetland and not drain it. This half-assed bargain is exactly that...in perpetuity.

Fiddlerdave
12-10-2008, 07:36 AM
A permanent (in perpetuity) easement sells all but minimal useage rights whereas nominal ownership, taxes, liability and such remain. So you give up most rights for all generations in one generation for one payment. It's a bad decision on the part of the landowner and a crappy way for the government to do business IMO.
An easement sells however much or little the landowner agrees to sell. I utterly fail to se how it is a bad way for the government or anyone else to do business. I have heard this exact argument from three heirs who have gotten their land for free and whine about not being able to make themselves more money from a freebie.

I would guess that the father and son have run down the land that is not swamp using poor farming techniques so it no longer produces anything, and he wants the part they haven't destroyed to exploit and ruin that part too.

So land shouldn't be sold with easements? This bum can sell it any time he wants and be rid if it. What could possibly be the problem with that?

Susan4
12-10-2008, 08:02 AM
FD, with that kind of attitude you will never understand, farmers, farming or farming communities. I suggest you stay in the city and remain oblivious and keep on believing that your food comes from the supermarket :lol:

Fiddlerdave
12-10-2008, 05:43 PM
FD, with that kind of attitude you will never understand, farmers, farming or farming communities. I suggest you stay in the city and remain oblivious and keep on believing that your food comes from the supermarket :lol:Sorry, most of my family IS farmers and there are a few small towns where everyone knows who I am related to if not themselves, ad I have done no small amount of work there as well.

An I am still asking you, as I ask the oblivious among them who are unhappy over the same issue, what is the problem with said relative having sold some of his property for what they felt was just compensation? About half of them never earned their land, and those are the ones who are most unhappy over any limitations on their freebies from their forebears. Their hypocracy is as annoying to the many other locals who did work (or at least are appreciative if inherited) for what they own as that hypocracy is to me.

What is most funny about your comment of "where food comes from" is not that they want to farm it, but because it has an easement not to be farmed, they can't get the annual government paycheck to NOT farm it, like they do on the rest of their often ruined land. Once they fill it in and plant something for a year or two, they will try to get the taxpayer subsidy on it, too. That is the REAL source of their "pain".

Susan4
12-10-2008, 07:26 PM
Most family farming operations are passed to ensuing generations to continue with the farm to those kids interested and staying to work. They grew up working it so they earned it by being born to it in my way of thinking. Try to set up farming without being a farm family and inheriting land. It's way more capital investment than what most family-starting-out types could begin to handle. Most farming families I know who do it full time with maybe a wife having an off farm job need about 6000 acres owned plus leased in mixed row crop, pasture, hay and livestock operations and they are work work working all the time. No vacation. 16+ hours days and don't dare get sick!

Farming by nature is an ups and downs proposition. Getting income just a few times a year and having to make that stretch. If there's tough years or failures that income has to come from diversification, off farm jobs, timber sales, or in some cases a government program. If that government program is a limited time frame contract such as CRP or what have you then the decision to a cash strapped farmer to enter the program affects just his ownership. If it's a perpetual easement program such as WRP then he's making a decision not just for his heirs but for the grandkids on down the line. When times get better and productive farm ground is locked out of use, then subsequent generations pay an ongoing price for that decision they didn't make. They have to pay tax, maintain, hold liability etc. for unproductive ground. Then the chickens come home to roost on a decision made likely at a desperate moment 20 years prior.

rc
12-13-2008, 11:06 PM
rc: If the government wants the swamp so frikken badly then let them buy it outright fee simple. Let them take on the liabilities, responsibilities and maintenance as well as the rights to keep it a wetland and not drain it. This half-assed bargain is exactly that...in perpetuity.

Yep, maybe the father was an idiot for not saying, "I won't sell you an easement for $4700, but I'll sell it outright for $4701." Again, I have absolutely no idea how much this land was worth 40 years ago, and yes, it's possible that the father got screwed, and it's possible he got a good deal.

Or to put it another way, if the father wanted $4700 so frikken badly then let him sell the land outright fee simple. :D