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FY 2024 Ranking Criteria for NRCS Programs - Texas

The NRCS State Conservationist, in consultation with the State Technical Committee and others, has developed ranking criteria to prioritize and select applications that best address the applicable program purposes and priority natural resource concerns in Texas.

Application Overview
Any applicant may submit an application for participation in ACEP, EQIP, CSP, or RCPP. The NRCS State Conservationist, in consultation with the State Technical Committee, Tribal Conservation Advisory Councils, Local Work Groups, and other stakeholders, has developed the following ranking criteria to prioritize and select applications that best address the applicable program purposes and priority natural resource concerns in Texas.

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 2024 NRCS will use the 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 for a unit of land.

CART assessments of existing management and conservation efforts are compared against
conservation planning criteria thresholds to determine the additional level of conservation efforts needed to address identified natural resource concerns. NRCS uses the results to identify 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's activities and the planner's 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 evaluation tool or a list of inventory-like criteria. Due to the variability in State tools, assessment questions and answers will be broad in nature to allow States to 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 outcomes 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. 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 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 the 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 – The resource condition that does not meet minimum acceptable condition levels as established by resource planning criteria. This implies 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, which 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 that 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:
  • 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.
  • Planned Practice Effects – The planned practice effect score is based on the sum of the planned practice on that land unit that addresses the resource concern. This score is weighted by ranking pool to address the resource concerns prioritized by that ranking pool. 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Texas 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

The following lists the 47 resource concerns NRCS uses during the Conservation Planning process.

Soils

  1. Sheet and rill erosion
  2. Wind erosion
  3. Ephemeral gully erosion
  4. Classic gully erosion
  5. Bank erosion from streams, shorelines or water conveyance channels
  6. Subsidence
  7. Compaction
  8. Organic matter depletion
  9. Concentration of salts or other chemicals
  10. Soil organism habitat loss or degradation
  11. Aggregate instability

Water

  1. Ponding and flooding
  2. Seasonal high-water table
  3. Seeps
  4. Drifted snow
  5. Surface water depletion
  6. Groundwater depletion
  7. Naturally available moisture use
  8. Inefficient irrigation water use
  9. Nutrients transported to surface water
  10. Nutrients transported to groundwater
  11. Pesticides transported to surface water
  12. Pesticides transported to groundwater
  13. Pathogens and chemicals from manure, biosolids or compost applications transported to surface water
  14. Pathogens and chemicals from manure, biosolids or compost applications transported to groundwater
  15. Salts transported to surface water
  16. Salts transported to groundwater
  17. Petroleum, heavy metals and other pollutants transported to surface water
  18. Petroleum, heavy metals and other pollutants transported to groundwater
  19. Sediment transported to surface water
  20. Elevated water temperature

Air

  1. Emissions of particulate matter (PM) and PM precursors
  2. Emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHGs)
  3. Emissions of ozone precursors
  4. Objectionable odors
  5. Emissions of airborne reactive nitrogen

Plants

  1. Plant productivity and health
  2. Plant structure and composition
  3. Plant pest pressure
  4. Wildfire hazard from biomass accumulation

Animals

  1. Terrestrial habitat for wildlife and invertebrates
  2. Aquatic habitat for fish and other organisms
  3. Feed and forage imbalance
  4. Inadequate livestock shelter
  5. Inadequate livestock water quantity, quality and distribution

Energy

  1. Energy efficiency of equipment and facilities
  2. Energy efficiency of field operations