Ranking Criteria for NRCS Programs
Any applicant may submit an application for participation in ACEP, EQIP, CSP, or RCPP. The NRCS
State Conservationist in consultation with stakeholders including the State
Technical Committee, Tribal Conservation Advisory Councils, and Local Work Groups, has developed
the following ranking criteria to prioritize and select applications that best address the
applicable program purposes and priority natural resource concerns in Delaware.
The NRCS State Conservationist will establish application batching periods and
select the highest ranked applications for funding, based on applicant eligibility and the NRCS
ranking process. In Fiscal Year 2023, NRCS will use its Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART)
to assess and rank all eligible applications for NRCS conservation programs.
Inventory and Assessment in CART
CART is a decision support system designed to provide a consistent, replicable framework for the
conservation planning process based on geospatially referenced information, client-provided
information, field observations, and NRCS conservation planner expertise. CART is designed to
assist NRCS conservation planners as they assess site vulnerability and existing conditions, and
identify natural resource concerns on a unit of land.
In CART, assessments of existing management and conservation efforts are compared against
conservation planning criteria thresholds to determine the level of conservation effort needed to
address identified natural resource concerns. The results are then used to inform NRCS conservation
planning activities for the client. NRCS also uses CART to consolidate resource data and program
information to prioritize program delivery and report outcomes of NRCS investments in conservation.
In general, resource concerns fall into one of three categories for the assessment method used in
CART to assess and document a resource concern:
• Client Input/Planner Observation: A streamlined list of options is presented to the planner to
document the client input and/or planner observation of the resource concerns present. These
observations are compared to the conservation planning criteria thresholds.
• Procedural/Deductive: A large group of resource concerns fall into this category and are
assessed using a resource concern-specific tool or a list of inventory-like criteria. Due to
variability in State tools, assessment questions and answers will be broad in nature to allow
States to more carefully align them with State conditions.
• Predictive: The remaining resource concerns are assessed using a predictive interactive model
simulation. The CART systems attempt to replicate the outcomes related to the assessment threshold
being met or not compared to the model outputs.
After identifying resource concerns and describing existing conditions, planned conservation
practices and activities can be added to the existing condition to determine the state of the
proposed management system. Supporting practices that are needed to support primary conservation
practices and activities are also identified, but do not add conservation management points to the total.
If the client is interested in financial assistance through an NRCS conservation program, the
inventory and assessment information, along with client decisions related to conservation practice
adoption, are directly and consistently transferred from the assessment portion of CART to the
ranking portion of CART. Based on the transferred assessment information and the conservation
practices proposed for implementation, CART identifies the appropriate program ranking pool(s).
Ranking in CART
In general, NRCS program ranking criteria uses the following guiding principles:
• Degree of cost-effectiveness of the proposed conservation practices and activities;
• The level of performance of proposed conservation practices and activities;
• Treatment of multiple resource concerns or national priority resource concerns;
• Magnitude of the environmental benefits resulting from the treatment of resource concerns
reflecting the level of performance of proposed conservation practices and activities; and
• Compliance with Federal, State, local or tribal regulatory requirements with regards to natural resources.
CART uses a set of National Ranking Templates developed for each NRCS program and initiative. The
National Ranking Templates contain four parameters that are customized for each program to reflect
the national level ranking criteria. The four parameters are:
1. Land Uses - NRCS has developed land use designations to be used by planners and modelers at
the field and landscape level. Land use modifiers more accurately define the land’s actual use and
provide another level of specificity and help denote how the land is managed. Land use designations
and modifiers are defined in Title 180, National Planning Procedures Handbook, Part 600.
2. Resource Concerns - An expected degradation of the soil, water, air, plant, or animal
resource base to the extent that the sustainability or intended use of the resource is impaired.
Because NRCS quantifies or describes resource concerns as part of a comprehensive conservation
planning process, that includes client objectives, human and energy resources are considered
components of the resource base.
3. Practices - A specific treatment used to address resource concerns, such as structural or
vegetative measures, or management techniques, which are planned and implemented in accordance with
applicable standards and specifications.
4. Ranking Component Weights – A set of five components comprise the ranking score for an
individual land-based assessment. The five components are:
a. Vulnerability - Site vulnerability is determined by subtracting the existing condition and
existing practice scores from the thresholds. This score is weighted by ranking pool to address the
resource concerns prioritized by that ranking pool.
b. Planned Practice Effects - The planned practice effect score is based on the sum of the
planned practice on that land unit which addresses the resource concern. This score is weighted by
ranking pool to address the resource concerns prioritized by that ranking pool.
c. Resource Priorities - National and State resource priorities are established to address the
most critical land and resource considerations and are based on NRCS national and State priorities
identified with input from National, State, and local stakeholders.
d. Program Priorities - National and State program priorities are established to maximize
program effectiveness and advance program purposes and are based on NRCS national and State
priorities identified with input from National, State, and local stakeholders.
e. Cost Efficiency – Summation of ‘Planned Practice Points’ divided by the log of the ‘Average
NOTE: The points for vulnerability, planned practice effects, and cost efficiency are garnered from
the assessment portion of CART.
Delaware created State-specific ranking pools within the above-described National Ranking Template
parameters. The State ranking pools contain a set of questions that are divided into the following
sections – applicability, category, program questions, and resource questions. Ranking pool
customization allows States to focus funding on priority resource concerns and initiatives
identified at the State level with input from NRCS stakeholders. Each eligible application may be considered for
funding in all applicable ranking pools by program.
NRCS Resource Concerns
There are 47 Resource Concerns NRCS uses during the Conservation Planning