The agency was founded largely through the efforts of Hugh Hammond Bennett, a soil conservation pioneer who worked for the Department of Agriculture from 1903 to 1952. Bennett's motivation was based on his knowledge of the detrimental effects of soil erosion and the impacts on U.S lands that led to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. On September 13, 1933, the Soil Erosion Service was formed in the Department of the Interior, with Bennett as chief. The service was transferred to the Department of Agriculture on March 23, 1935, and was shortly thereafter combined with other USDA units to form the Soil Conservation Service by the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1935.
The Soil Conservation Service was in charge of 500 Civilian Conservation Corps camps between 1933 and 1942. The primary purpose of these camps was erosion control.
Hugh Bennett continued as chief, a position he held until his retirement in 1952. On October 20, 1994, the agency was renamed to the Natural Resources Conservation Service as part of the Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994.
Programs and services
NRCS offers technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers. The financial assistance is authorized by the Farm Bill, a law that is renewed every five years. The 2014 Farm Bill consolidated 23 programs into 15. NRCS offers these services to private land owners, conservation districts, tribes, and other types of organizations. NRCS also collects and shares information on the nation's soil, water, air, and plants.
The Conservation Title of the Farm Bill provides the funding to agricultural producers, and a conservation plan must be included. All of these programs are voluntary. The main programs include:
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
The purpose of EQIP is to provide assistance to landowners to help them improve their soil, water and related natural resources, including grazing lands, wetlands, and wildlife habitat.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
CSP is targeted to a producers who maintain a higher level of environmental stewardship.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
RCPP consolidated four programs from the prior 2008 Farm Bill. It aims at more regional or watershed scale projects, rather than individual farms and ranches.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
ACEP was another consolidation effort of the 2014 Farm Bill, which includes the former Grasslands Reserve Program, Farm, and Ranch Lands Protection Program, and Wetlands Reserve Program. ACEP includes technical and financial help to maintain or improve land for agriculture or environmental benefits.
Healthy Forests Reserve Program
(HFRP) Landowners volunteer to restore and protect forests in 30 or 10 year contracts. This program hands assisting funds to participants. The objectives of HFRP are to:
- Promote the recovery of endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
- Improve plant and animal biodiversity
- Enhance carbon sequestration
NRCS National Ag Water Management Team
(AGWAM) Serves 10 states in the Midwest United States in helping to reduce Nitrate levels in soil due to runoff from fertilized farmland. The project began in 2010 and initially focused on the Mississippi Basin area. The main goal of the project is to implement better methods of managing water drainage from agricultural uses, in place of letting the water drain naturally as it had done in the past. In October 2011, The National "Managing Water, Harvesting Results" Summit was held to promote the drainage techniques used in hopes of people adopting them nationwide.
Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting
Includes water supply forecasts, reservoirs, and the Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI) for Alaska and other Western states. NRCS agents collect data from snowpack and mountain sites to predict spring runoff and summer streamflow amounts. These predictions are used in decision making for agriculture, wildlife management, construction and development, and several other areas. These predictions are available within the first 5 days of each month from January to June.
Conservation Technical Assistance Program
(CTA) Is a blanket program which involves conservation efforts on soil and water conservation, as well as management of agricultural wastes, erosion, and general longterm sustainability. NRCS and related agencies work with landowners, communities, or developers to protect the environment. Also serve to guide people to comply with acts such as the Highly Erodible Land, Wetland (Swampbuster), and Conservation Compliance Provisions acts. The CTA can also cover projects by state, local, and federal governments.
The NRCS (formerly SCS) has been involved in soil and other conservation issues internationally since the 1930s. The main bulk of international programs focused on preventing soil erosion by sharing techniques known to the United States with other areas. NRCS sends staff to countries worldwide to conferences to improve knowledge of soil conservation. There is also international technical assistance programs similar to programs implemented in the United States. There are long-term technical assistance programs in effect with one or more NRCS staff residing in the country for a minimum of one year. There are currently long-term assistance programs on every continent. Short-term technical assistance is also available on a two-week basis.
These programs are to encourage local landowners and organizations to participate in the conservation of natural resources on their land, and lastly, landscape planning has a goal to solve problems dealing with natural resource conservation with the help of the community in order to reach a desired future outcome.
In 2015, NRCS began broad support of soil health, which incorporates less tillage and more cover crops to reduce erosion and improve the diversity of the soil.
Pollution of water due to a number of different pollutants has driven the NRCS to take action. Not only do they offer financial assistance but they also provide the equipment needed for private land owners to protect our water resources. Water gets polluted by nitrogen and phosphorus which causes algae to grow proliferously causing the oxygen concentrations to decline rapidly, life is no longer supported in this habitat. Excessive sedimentation is also another concern along with pathogens threats that can find their way into water systems and cause detrimental effects. NRCS works in a way to help both the land owner and the water systems that need prevention or restoration.
Water management strives to manage and control the flow of water in a way that is efficient while causing the least amount of damage to life and property. This helps provide protection in high risk areas from flooding. Irrigation water management is the most efficient way to use and recycle water resources for land owners and farmers. Drainage management is the manipulation of the sub surface drainage networks in order to properly disperse the water to the correct geographical areas.The NRCS engineering vision is constantly making improvements to irrigation systems in a way that incorporates every aspect of water restoration.
A team of highly trained experts on every aspect of water is employed by the NRCS to analyze water from different sources. They work in many areas such as: hydrology and hydraulics, stream restoration, wetlands, agriculture, agronomy, animal waste management, pest control, salinity, irrigation, and nutrients in water.
Under watershed programs the NRCS works with states, local governments, and tribes by providing funding and resources in order to help restore and also benefit from the programs. They provide: watershed protection, flood mitigation, water quality improvement, soil erosion reduction, irrigation, sediment control, fish and wildlife enhancement, wetland and wetland function creation and restoration, groundwater recharge, easements, wetland and floodplain conservation easements, hydropower, watershed dam rehabilitation.
Plants and animals
Plants and animals play a huge role in the health of our ecosystems. A delicate balance exists between relationships of plants and animals. If an animal is introduced to an ecosystem that is not native to the region that it could destroy plants or animals that should not have to protect itself from this particular threat. As well as if a plant ends up in a specific area where it should not be it could have adverse effects on the wildlife that try to eat it. NRCS protects the plants and animals because they provide us with food, materials for shelter, fuel to keep us warm, and air to breathe.Without functioning ecosystems we would have none of the things mentioned above. NRCS provides guidance to assist conservationists and landowners with enhancing plant and animal populations as well as helping them deal with invasive species.
Fish and wildlife
NRCS for years has been working toward restoration, creation, enhancement, and maintenance for aquatic life on the nearly 70% of land that is privately owned in order to keep the habitats and wildlife protected. NRCS with a science-based approach, provides equipment to wildlife and fish management. They also do this for landowners who qualify .
Insects and pollinators
Pollination by insects plays a huge role in the production of food crop and flowering plants. Without pollinators searching for nectar and pollen for food the plants would not produce a seed that will create another plant. NRCS sees the importance of this process so they are taking measures to increase the declining number of pollinators. There are many resources provided from the NRCS that will help any individual do their part in conservation of these important insects. Such as Backyard Conservation which tells an individual exactly how to help by just creating a small habitat in minutes. There are many others such as: Plants for pollinators, pollinators habitat in pastures, pollinator value of NRCS plant releases in conservation planting, plant materials publications relating to insects and pollinators, PLANTS database: NRCS pollinator documents. All of these are valuable resources that any individual can take advantage of.
Invasive species and pests
Many adverse effects are present due to invasive species. Plants and animals both inhabit areas that they are not intended to be. The kudzu vine for example covers miles of foliage. These invasive species cause America's reduction in economic productivity and ecological decline. Humans are unknowingly transporting these invasive species via ships, planes, boats, and their own bodies. NRCS works in collaboration with the plant materials centers scattered throughout the country in order to get a handle on the invasive species of plants.These centers scout out the plants and take measures to control and eradicate them from the particular area.Invasive animals such as feral hog, European gypsy moth, and the sirex woodwasp pose a significant threat to America's wildlife as well as to the health of human beings. The hog was introduced as a food source for humans, but now the swine pandemic is a serious threat to humans. The gypsy moth destroys natural forests that are habitat to many beneficial species. The Woodwasp feeds on pine trees as well as providing a means of transportation for a fungus that kills pine trees.
Livestock management is an area of interest for the NRCS because if not maintained valuable resources such as food, wools, and leather would not be available. The proper maintenance of livestock can also improve soil and water resources by providing a waste management system so that run off and erosion is not a problem. The NRCS provides financial assistance to land owners with grazing land and range land that is used by livestock in order to control the run off of waste into fresh water systems and prevent soil erosion.
Plants are a huge benefit to the health of ecosystems. NRCS offers significant amounts of resources to individuals interested in conserving plants. From databases full of information to financial assistance the NRCS works hard to provide the means needed to do so. The plant materials program, Plant materials centers, Plant materials specialists, PLANTS database, National Plant Data Team (NPDT) are all used together to keep our ecosystems as healthy as possible. This includes getting rid of unwanted species and building up species that have been killed off that are beneficial to the environment. The NRCS utilizes a very wide range of interdisciplinary resources.
The NRCS also utilizes the following disciplines in order to maximize efficiency:
- Air Quality and Atmospheric Change
- Animal Feeding Operations and Confined Animal Feeding Operations
- Conservation Innovation Grants
- Conservation Practices
- Cultural Resources
- Environmental Compliance
- Field Office Technical Guide
- Data and Analysis
- Nutrient Management
- Pest Management
- Range and Pasture
- Social Sciences
- Soils, and Water Resources
These Science-Based technologies are all used together in order to provide the best conservation of natural resources possible.
Established in 2006, the GBVPMC serves Nevada, California, and parts of Utah and Oregon. The main purpose of the center is to combat damage done by invasive plant species in the area, which have done great damage to ecosystems in the Great Basin. They also aid in restoring ecosystems damaged by fires, climate change, drought, or other natural disasters. The centers provides native plants to help restore these damaged areas. They also do work developing plant organisms and technologies that are suited for the dry, high salt content soil of the area.
National Association of Conservation Districts
(NACD) A non-profit agency which serves 3,000 conservation districts across the United States. There about 17,000 individuals who serve on the governing boards of conservation districts. Local conservation districts work with landowners to help manage land and water resources. The mission of NACD is to provide leadership and a unified voice for natural resource conservation in the United States. The NACD grew in the 1930s from a statewide operation in Oklahoma, and many independent districts, to a unified National organization in 1946See also