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Conservation Assessment and Ranking (CART)


The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Assessment Ranking Tool (CART) incorporates a program-neutral assessment with an integrated and efficient ranking tool to facilitate conservation delivery. Planners start in Conservation Desktop (CD) and select a client’s practice schedule with at least one or more digitize planned land units (PLUs) to assess in CART. Within CART, the planners select resource concerns for assessment and will answer a series of resource inventory questions based on the land use, land use modifiers, and resource concerns selected, as well as note any existing conservation practices, to capture the existing conditions on the land unit. CART pulls geospatial data behind the scenes to support the field office staff’s determination of the site vulnerability and existing conditions, as well as answer some of the resource inventory questions in CART. Planners then select conservation practices in CART to create an alternative plan to address resource concerns on the client’s land. The assessment can then be moved forward to ranking where the planned conservation practices can be considered for funding from applicable ranking pools.

About CART Assessment

CART is designed to assist NRCS conservation planners as they assess site vulnerability, existing conditions, and identify potential resource concerns on a unit of land. CART results are then used to support conservation planning activities for the client. CART also captures this information to prioritize programs and report outcomes of NRCS investments in conservation.  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 as appropriate, and planner expertise. Site evaluations for existing management and conservation efforts are then compared to the quality criteria threshold to determine what level of conservation effort is needed to address resource concerns on the client’s land.

In general, resource concerns fall into one of three categories for the assessment method used to assess and document a resource concern:

1. Client Input/Planner Observation: A streamlined list of options will be presented to the planner to document the client input and/or planner observation of present resource concerns. These observations will then be compared to the quality criteria threshold. Most of the Client Input or Planner Observation resource concerns will have a CART system threshold of 50. If the existing condition choice is below 50, then the assessment threshold is not met.

2. Procedural/Deductive : A large group of the remaining resource concerns fall into this category and usually reference a tool to assist with a determination or have a list of inventory-like criteria in the assessment. Due to the local variability in state tools, these choices will be broad in nature to allow states to more carefully align them with State conditions. As above, many of these have a set threshold of 50, but may have variable thresholds for the same reasons as above.

3. Predictive: The remaining group of resource concerns are assessed using a type of 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. Most of these have variable thresholds related to the intrinsic site conditions which reflect significant impacts on the model outputs.

After identifying resource concerns and answering existing condition questions, planned conservation practices and activities can be added to the existing condition to determine the state of the management system. Supporting practices may be necessary to support the primary conservation practices and activities and will be identified as necessary, but do not add conservation management points to the total. A comprehensive list of Conservation Practices and Activities and their points towards addressing each resource concern by land use is available as an attachment to this document.

About CART Ranking

If the client is interested in financial assistance, CART will directly and consistently transfer inventory and assessment information, along with client decisions related to conservation practice adoption, to the ranking tool to avoid duplication, increase prioritization on critical areas based on geospatial priorities and site-specific data, and provide better outcomes and a framework for continuous improvement. CART will identify applicable financial assistance ranking pools to provide the most advantageous situation for the client and to help planners prioritize workload toward those clients who are most likely to receive funding.

  • California created state specific ranking pools from the parameters established in the National Ranking Templates.
  • Ranking pool customization allows states to focus funding on priority resource concerns and initiatives identified by the State Technical Committee.
  • The state ranking pools contain a set of questions that includes the following sections – applicability, category, program questions, and resource questions.
  • Program participants will be considered for funding in all applicable ranking pools by program. This will allow more for participants to receive financial assistance.

A CART ranking pool includes the following elements:

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 GM180, Part 600 National Planning Procedures Handbook.

2. Ranking Weights – A set of five components that comprise the ranking score for an individual assessed practice schedule. The components include vulnerability, planned practice points, program priorities, resource priorities, and efficiency. The points for vulnerability, planned practice points, and efficiency are garnered from the assessment portion of CART.

3. 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. A specific treatment, such as a structural or vegetative measure, or management technique, commonly used to meet specific needs in planning and implementing conservation, for which standards and specifications have been developed.

4. Ranking Criteria - CART Ranking Criteria includes program priority and resource priority questions developed using the following guiding principles:

  • Client Input/Planner Observation;
  • Degree of cost-effectiveness of the proposed conservation practices;
  • Magnitude of the environmental benefits resulting from the treatment of national priorities;
  • Reflecting the level of performance of proposed conservation practices;
  • Magnitude of the environmental benefits resulting from the treatment of priority resource;
  • Concerns reflecting the level of performance of proposed conservation practices;
  • Treatment of multiple resource concerns; and
  • Compliance with Federal, state, local or tribal regulatory requirements with regards to natural resources.