Smith: Back in 2011, Kurt Wilke was doing some drain tile improvements on his farm in Illinois. However, officials from the local Natural Resources Conservation Service stepped in to say they couldn’t maintain or farm their land, claiming it contained wetlands in spite of documentation to the contrary. Wilke appealed the decision to the National Appeals Division, which is a judicial branch of the USDA. The Wilke family had to appeal the decision four times before getting a ruling in their favor after a multi-year battle.
Wilke: Finally, the judge and the National Appeals Division Director issued rulings that the government’s position was based on conjecture and speculation, that they had ignored facts and evidence, and that their analysis didn’t even follow their own rulebook and procedures, so that finally resulted in a conclusion of the case in 2017.
Smith: An administrative judge recently ruled Wilke can pursue action to be reimbursed for his legal fees. Wilke says it’s another case that shows the government has to play by its own rules. He also offers advice to other farmers who may find themselves in similar situations.
Wilke: I would encourage people if they get into a situation like this to be persistent and get help. In our case, it was just invaluable to have an engineer who understood wetlands analysis and could help us rebut the government’s case. And the other thing is we were able to talk continuously with the state farm bureau and they had a lot of resources, they knew of other cases, they knew of other situations, and they could bring that experience to bear.
Smith: Wilke says the experience with NRCS has been difficult for his family.
Wilke: For our family, it’s just been incredibly frustrating and obviously very expensive process, but hopefully, because we were willing to come out in our case and maybe shine a little light on some of the abuses in this whole process, hopefully other people won’t have to go through the same thing we did.
Smith: Chad Smith, Washington.