Who We Are, What We Do, and Why
What is the NRCS?
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is the federal agency that works with landowners on private lands to conserve natural resources. NRCS is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We were formerly called the Soil Conservation Service or "SCS".
What do we do?
Nearly three-fourths of the technical assistance provided by the agency goes to helping farmers and ranchers develop conservation systems uniquely suited to their land and individual ways of doing business. The agency also provides assistance to other private landowners and rural and urban communities to reduce erosion, conserve and protect water, and solve other resource problems. Find out more about the different NRCS programs available to help you.
Here's some of the things we're responsible for:
Technical Assistance for Conservation
Conservation technical assistance is the basis of NRCS's mission to conserve, sustain, and improve America's private lands. NRCS staff work one-on-one with private landowners to develop and implement conservation plans which protect the soil, water, air, plant and animal resources on the 1.5 billion acres of privately-owned land in the United States. Find an NRCS office to help you.
NRCS is responsible for surveying the soils of the United States, publishing and interpreting the soils information. Soils information is the basis for natural resource and land use planning. It is the key to assessing site potential for specific uses and identifying soil characteristics and properties.
National Resources Inventory
Every five years, NRCS conducts the National Resources Inventory (NRI) on nonfederal rural land in the United States. This inventory shows natural resource trends, such as land cover and use, prime farmland, soil erosion and wetlands. The 1997 NRI, for example, shows that farmers are dramatically reducing soil erosion on cropland. From 1982 to 1992, erosion on all cropland declined by about one-third, going from 3.1 billion to 2.1 billion tons a year.
Wetlands conservation is an important and sensitive issue. During 1982-1992, wetland losses due to agriculture slowed to about 31,000 acres a year, a more than 90 percent reduction compared to conversion rates between 1954 and 1974. NRCS is one of the four primary federal agencies involved with wetlands.
In the Wetlands Reserve Program, conservation easements are purchased from landowners to restore or enhance, wetland areas. Ownership, control of access, and some compatible uses remain with the landowner.
NRCS has technical leadership for identification and delineation of wetlands on agricultural lands, and on all lands for USDA program participants. Hydric soils information can be found on the Soil DataMart (list of hydric soils by county) or Web Soil Survey, hydric soil information for a specific parcel of land.
Over the past decade, NRCS has been helping producers develop and implement 1.7 million conservation plans on 143 million acres of highly erodible cropland as part of the conservation compliance provision of the Food Security Act of 1985. As a result, erosion on our most highly erodible cropland has been cut by two-thirds.
NRCS provides assistance to farmers to improve water quality. This includes improving nutrient and pesticide management and reducing soil erosion, thus decreasing sediment that would otherwise end up in lakes and streams. Technical assistance, including engineering, structure design and layout for manure management and water quality practices contributes significantly to state water quality efforts. Through the Environmental Quality Inventive Program, NRCS provides technical and financial assistance for local resource priorities.
How do we help?
NRCS works with state and local partners
NRCS relies on many partners to help set conservation goals, work with people on the land, and provide assistance. Its partners include county land conservation departments, state and federal agencies, Tribal Nations, agribusiness, private industry, agricultural, commodity and environmental groups, and professional societies. The nation’s 3,000 conservation districts-called Land Conservation Committees in Wisconsin - are the key to the local conservation delivery system. These units of county government are organized under state law. They link NRCS with local priorities for soil and water conservation. They also complement the work of NRCS’s conservationists with county programs and with county staff.
The strength of NRCS is in its workforce. Most of its employees serve in USDA’s network of local, county-based offices called USDA Service Centers. The rest are at state, regional, and national offices, providing technology, policy, and administrative support. NRCS employees have the technical expertise and field experience to help land users solve their natural resource challenges and maintain and improve their economic viability. Employees are high skilled in many scientific and technical specialties, including:
Locate NRCS staff or offices here.
How can I volunteer?
NRCS’s Earth Team volunteer program provides an opportunity for everyone to share their conservation ethic. In 1994, 12,300 volunteers contributed over a half million hours of service, valued at $5.5 million, in agency offices, on the land, and in conservation education programs in schools and communities across the nation. Join the Earth Team today!
Who do I contact for help?
Contact our local offices or employees to learn more ways to help.
You can contact any one of our local offices located in USDA service centers, or for general information and media publications you can contact:
Renae Anderson, Public Affairs Specialist
Natural Resources Conservation Service
8030 Excelsior Drive
Madison, WI 53717
Phone (608) 662-4422 ext 227
Jimmy Bramblett is the State Conservationist for NRCS in Wisconsin.