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Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative (CDSI ) Initiative 3

Initiative 3 - Provide field technical staff with natural resource science and technology focused to support conservation planning and application.

The 2007 CASPeR project identified several areas where NRCS’ natural resource science, data, and associated tools are not well aligned with conservation planning processes. This Initiative will:

  • Ensure that NRCS’ Resource Concerns and their associated criteria are designed to support conservation planning and decision-making in the field.

  • Ensure that planning policy is clear and results in science-based conservation plan products.

  • Integrate a process that describes the effects from conservation assistance at the farm level.

  • Integrate an area-wide assessment process into NRCS’ delivery of conservation assistance to better prioritize and treat resource concerns, and more effectively and efficiently serve clients.

STRATEGY 3.1 - NRCS will establish Resource Concerns and Planning Criteria that are clear, repeatable, scalable, field-oriented, and science-based.

Establishing a list of Resource Concerns and Planning Criteria that effectively supports planning, and formalizing their use in the planning process, will reinforce the science-based delivery of technical assistance and provide enhanced accountability for financial assistance.

NRCS will reestablish Resource Concerns as the foundation for technical and financial assistance activities by:

  • Redefining a set of Resource Concerns that more effectively supports the on-site business process for identifying and assessing resource problems, and formulating treatment alternatives. 

  • Introducing the concept of “Planning Criteria” to identify a treatment level that meets NRCS planning standards, with specific definitions and criteria to ensure their utility in planning.  NRCS Planning Criteria must be:

  • Objective and repeatable, minimizing the subjectivity in field determinations

  • Simple and quick to apply in a field setting, to the extent possible

  • Site-based, based on client-controlled factors, and location specific

  • Scalable, when applicable

  • Scientifically credible

  • Incorporating land use and client objectives into the Planning Criteria as applicable in order to streamline the process.

  • Incorporating a tiered assessment approach and a minimum set of Resource Concerns for assessment by land use.

  • Introducing a landscape assessment concept into the planning criteria to address resource concerns where the assessment and identification of treatments span multiple land uses.

STRATEGY 3.2 - Area-wide assessments and approaches will be integrated into the Agency’s conservation assistance business processes.

Working directly on the land with farmers, ranchers, and other land users must always be the foundation for conservation assistance.  NRCS’ success is dependent upon our working relationship with our clients.  While on-site conservation planning is NRCS’ unique niche, it is also clear that many environmental issues are not easily evaluated or treated with a single farm approach.  If NRCS is to effectively utilize its technical and financial assistance programs to address resource issues it must recognize that conservation assistance starts long before the client walks through NRCS’ door. 

 NRCS’ conservation delivery must consider the wider geography or landscape where its clients operate.  Utilizing resource inventory data, models, and other sources of information to conduct analyses and assessments at watershed, regional, or other landscape-scales provides NRCS a framework to establish conservation priorities for technical and financial assistance, leverage the interest and resources of partners, identify alternative ways to serve customers more effectively, streamline funding processes, and enhance environmental outcomes.  Area-wide assessments are required for NRCS to fully integrate an automated ranking and potentially a continuous selection process (see Strategy 4.2).

STRATEGY 3.3 - Conservation effects will be integrated into NRCS planning tools in order to (1) enhance client decision-making, (2) transparently report performance outcomes, (3) streamline FA ranking and selection processes, and (4) support NRCS’ potential role in environmental market programs.

Describing the effects or outcomes from NRCS programs has historically proven to be a challenge.  Since NRCS does not have the authorities or resources to implement a comprehensive monitoring program for its activities, the Agency largely depends upon describing the effects for most resource issues in a qualitative manner (e.g. acres benefiting from practices that address water quality). 

Integrating effects will be accomplished with a short- and long-term approach:

  • NRCS will implement a short term Conservation Practice Physical Effects (CPPE)-based strategy for incorporating effects into the conservation planning business processes through the Conservation Desktop and the Mobile Planning Tool.

  • NRCS will implement a longer term strategy to transparently integrate field scale models to estimate effects for a number of resource concerns.

Effects will become a standard part of the conservation planning process and final plan product, through an automated conservation effects statement.

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