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Ranking Criteria for NRCS Programs

Application Overview
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 
Practice Cost’.

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