USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the USDA Forest Service are taking steps to get to work faster on watershed infrastructure projects in national forests and neighboring communities.
This is especially important following natural disasters like wildfire, as it enables NRCS to cooperate with the Forest Service on Emergency Watershed Protection Program projects. These projects help to relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural disasters that impair a watershed.
“When it comes to disaster recovery, speed is everything,” said NRCS Chief Terry Cosby. “Our continued partnership with the Forest Service will enable us to better respond to natural disasters and help prevent impacts from future ones. It is unavoidable that wildfires will burn across areas with a patchwork of land ownership, including National Forest System lands, and it is essential that this work can be completed on all of those lands without delay.”
The Emergency Watershed Protection Program helps with projects that:
- remove debris from stream channels, road culverts and bridges;
- reshape and protect eroded streambanks;
- correct damaged or destroyed drainage facilities;
- establish vegetative cover on critically eroding lands;
- repair levees and structures;
- repair certain conservation practices; and,
- purchase floodplain buyouts.
NRCS and the Forest Service actively collaborate on many projects where the landscape shifts from farmland to forest or federal to private. A recent memorandum of understanding defines the role each agency will perform, provides clarity on assistance each will provide and enable a faster response in times of need.
Specifically, this interagency partnership streamlines funding and coordinates project management so that watershed protection can immediately be implemented following a wildfire or other natural disaster.
“This agreement strengthens the collaborative relationship between the two agencies and enables greater coordination in post-disaster recovery efforts to more rapidly provide flood and soil erosion protection for communities adjacent to national forests and grasslands,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “As we experience increased natural disasters exacerbated by a changing climate, as well as larger and more destructive wildfires, it is essential to modernize our post-disaster recovery programs and partnerships to more effectively serve impacted communities. This is one more step in that direction with our close partners at NRCS within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”
The result of this work will benefit communities across the country. For example, Coconino County, Arizona, is composed of nearly 90% national forests. Now, NRCS and the Forest Service can more quickly respond to natural disasters like wildfire through proactive planning. Without the ability to absorb water, wildfire burn scars create devasting post-fire flooding that threaten residents if left untreated. This partnership is especially timely, as NRCS is implementing projects funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other legislation.
NRCS partners with diverse sponsors to complete emergency watershed remediation projects. Eligible sponsors include cities, counties, towns, conservation districts, or any federally recognized Native American tribe or tribal organization.
Communities interested in assistance should contact the state Emergency Watershed Protection program manager.
If your agricultural operation has been affected by wildfires, USDA offers programs that can help with recovery as well as those that can help you manage risk on your operation. On farmers.gov, the Wildfire Webpage, Disaster Assistance Discovery Tool, Disaster-at-a-Glance fact sheet, and Loan Assistance Tool can help producers and landowners determine program or loan options. For Farm Service Agency and NRCS programs, contact your USDA Service Center.