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Conservation Planner Certification Requirements

Checklist of NRCS Minimum Requirements for Certified Conservation Planner in California

Candidates for Certified Conservation Planner in California must meet certain general requirements and demonstrate competency as follows.

I. Specific Required Training

NRCS Online Courses (minimum test score 80%): -

  • Conservation Planning Course – Part 1 – Modules 1-5
  • Facilitated Courses: - Conservation Planning Course – Part 2 – Modules 6-8
  • Follow-up Homework: - Conservation Planning Course – Part 3 – Module 9 – Completion of three Conservation Plans

II. Competency and Knowledge Requirements

The emphasis of conservation planner certification is on obtaining, demonstrating and maintaining the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to carry out the NRCS conservation planning process. In addition, the certified conservation planner must have knowledge of specific technical subject areas in order to develop a quality plan. The knowledge should be sufficient to recommend conservation practices to meet resource needs, but may not need to be at an expert level in those technical subject areas not directly related to the geographic area and natural resources setting being planned. The certified conservation planner will know when to seek additional expert help. The certified conservation planner is also expected to have a knowledge of environmental laws and regulations sufficient to help clients develop conservation alternatives that comply with these laws and regulations.

Different proficiency or competency levels are associated with each required knowledge, skill and ability:

Level 1 = Awareness
Level 2 = Understanding
Level 3 = Perform with Supervision
Level 4 = Apply Independently
Level 5 = Proficient and Can Train Others

Planning Process – Level 4 – Apply Independently
  • Knowledge of the fundamental theories, principles, concepts, and methodologies of the soil conservation profession, related biological and physical sciences, and pertinent engineering practices.
  • Skill in applying the concepts and principles associated with natural resource disciplines in order to recognize a substantial range of critical resource problems and to draw conclusions as to their cause, impact and possible solution.
  • Knowledge, skills and abilities in oral and written communications in order to listen, discuss, explain and advocate conservation measures, plans and objectives with landowners and managers, and to research and exchange information with other technical specialists.
  • Knowledge and skill in logically accessing, organizing and presenting appropriate data and technical information in order to support comprehensive conservation planning measures, plans and objectives. This includes skill in using soil surveys and aerial photographs; gathering crop history and other field-level data; inventorying resource conditions; applying techniques of crop, pasture, range and forest management; evaluating alternative conservation practices and irrigation systems; planning wildlife habitats; and recommending plant materials compatible with conservation objectives and local environmental conditions.
  • Ability to work closely and effectively with landowners and land managers (including Tribes, farmers, ranchers, other private landowners, and units of government), other professionally trained workers, and diverse groups in critical situations, including skill in identifying landowner objectives, resolving conflict, and developing productive relationships as part of a coordinated team.
  • Knowledge of NRCS natural resources planning principles, procedures, and standards as outlined in the NRCS planning policy and National Planning Procedures Handbook, and skill and ability to apply this knowledge independently in order to develop farm-level, or site-specific conservation plans, including:
  • Knowledge of NRCS conservation planning policy (GM180, Part 409) ✔ Knowledge of NRCS planning objectives and purpose of planning ✔ Knowledge of Resource Quality Criteria (SWAPA+H)
  • Ability to develop, read and interpret a conservation plan, including imagery and map products
  • Ability to document conservation decisions and alternatives in conservation planning
  • Ability to interpret, analyze and evaluate resource inventory data. Skill in assembling and disseminating this data.
  • Ability to develop and evaluate conservation alternatives. Evaluation factors include social, environmental and economic effects of alternatives.
  • Ability to integrate conservation practices as part of an overall resource management system (RMS). Skill in developing RMS level alternatives.
  • Ability to work with the landowner/cooperator to identify objectives, secure decisions, document decisions, and implement decisions.
  • Ability to follow-up with implementation of the plan and evaluation of its effectiveness.
  • Knowledge of the NRCS technical directives system, specifically, the Field Office Technical Guide, Technical Notes, Discipline Manuals, and Handbooks in order to use these documents and tools to formulate and evaluate resource management systems, common to the geographic area, for conservation planning.
  • Knowledge and Skill in using computer systems and associated software (including MS Office and Web-based technology) in order to access, enter, interpret, summarize, exchange and present natural resource information in a conservation plan document to a landowner, or manager.
  • Knowledge of NRCS and Conservation District legislation and relationships in order to describe the authorities under which NRCS and Conservation Districts work on private lands.

Typically, this knowledge is gained through a combination of extensive field and work experience, including experience in applying the principles, standards, and procedures found in NRCS Handbooks and FOTG, and a curriculum leading to a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, or natural resources, with a major of either soil conservation, ecology, natural resources management, agronomy, biology, botany, forestry, engineering, or a closely related field.

Technical Subject Areas – Level 4 – Apply Independently (if directly related to area being planned). Level 2 – Understanding (if not directly related to area being planned).
  • Knowledge of soils common to the geographic area and skill in using Soil Survey reports and data, including soil information and interpretations for planning purposes.
  • Knowledge of wind and water erosion prediction and measurement tools and skill in applying these technologies, as applicable to the geographic area.
  • Skill in cartography, including reading and using aerial photos, orthophotography, other imagery and map products. Ability to calculate acreage and develop conservation plan maps.
  • Knowledge of land surveying techniques.
  • Knowledge of hydrology and hydraulic engineering sciences sufficient to understand relationships between precipitation, runoff, runoff curve numbers, water flow, channel dynamics, stream geomorphology, and watersheds.
  • Knowledge of surface and ground water quality principles.
  • Knowledge of pesticide safety issues in agriculture and other land uses, as applicable to the geographic area, including the use of assessment tools such as WINPST. Ability to evaluate and present alternatives to reduce pesticide impacts.
  • Knowledge of irrigation systems common to the geographic area.
  • Knowledge of irrigation water management principles and practices.
  • Knowledge of air quality management principles and techniques.
  • Knowledge of plant species common to the geographic area and ability to recommend species for specific conservation uses (including native and non-native species). Skill in plant identification and establishment methods.
  • Knowledge of local invasive plant and noxious weed species and their biology in order to present management alternatives to landusers.
  • Knowledge of range management science, including livestock management principles and practices, grazing techniques, forage species and plant communities.
  • Knowledge of agronomy science, including crops, pasture, nutrient management, site vulnerability assessment tools (from nutrients and pesticides), and pest management.
Technical Subject Areas – Level 4 – Apply Independently (if directly related to area being planned). Level 2 – Understanding (if not directly related to area being planned).
  • Knowledge of forestry practices and skill in identification of major tree and shrub species in the geographic area.
  • Knowledge of fuels reduction and vegetation management practices in order to reduce risk from wildfire.
  • Ability to identify wetland types common to the geographic area. Knowledge of wetland restoration techniques, including hydrology and wetland plant aspects.
  • Knowledge of habitat needs for fish and wildlife species common to the area, including identifying threatened and endangered species and their habitats.
  • Knowledge of biological assessments and their roles in conservation planning.
  • Knowledge of livestock operations, including dairy animals, hogs, poultry, beef cattle and cow/calf operations.
  • Knowledge of the principles of agricultural waste management systems.
  • Knowledge of cultural resources common to the geographic area being planned.
  • Ability to apply economic analyses and evaluations to conservation alternatives.
Environmental Laws and Regulations – Level 4 – Apply Independently (for NEPA, NRCS EA Worksheet, Prime Farmland Protection, T&E Species, and Cultural Resources Protection). Level 2 – Understanding (all others).
  • Knowledge of Federal and State laws, treaties, regulations and ordinances, as they affect implementation of conservation practices and systems, and skill in developing appropriate responses to these statutes and other legal documents.
  • Knowledge of local ordinances and Tribal treaties, as applicable.
  • Knowledge of applicable federal, state and local permit requirements, and the application process sufficient to assist landowners applying practices through USDA programs.
  • Knowledge of landowner and agency responsibilities relating to threatened and endangered (T&E) species protection.
  • Knowledge of landowner and agency responsibilities relating to cultural resources protection, including Native American consultation requirements. Ability to identify practices that constitute an undertaking. Ability to identify potential cultural resources sites in the field.
  • Knowledge of prime farmland issues, including applicable federal, state and local laws protecting prime and statewide important farmland.
  • Knowledge of landowner and agency responsibilities related to federal, state and local clean water requirements.
  • Knowledge of regulatory requirements and restrictions in Air Quality Non-Attainment Areas.
  • Knowledge of Environmental Assessments (EA), as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and ability to complete the EA Worksheet for conservation planning purposes.

III. Additional Requirements

  • Submit documentation or other evidence to the California NRCS State Conservationist to demonstrate that applicant has knowledge and skills listed above. Documentation or supporting evidence could include:
  • University undergraduate or graduate degree in soil conservation, agronomy, biology, range conservation, forestry, animal science, agriculture, engineering, soil science or other related field.
  • Training records
  • Samples of products – e.g. conservation plans prepared for various agricultural operations, land uses and resource settings.
  • Documentation of other experience or ways that the required knowledge has been obtained
  • Submit three conservation plans to the California NRCS State Conservationist for review and approval.

(Note: For the purpose of obtaining NRCS conservation planning certification in California, NRCS employees and others are required to submit conservation plans for review and approval that have presented (and documented) Resource Management System (RMS) level alternative(s) to the client, even if the client decides not to implement the RMS alternative(s).)

IV. Maintaining Certification

  • Obtain periodic training to stay up-to-date in technical subjects, laws and regulations, and the NRCS conservation planning process.
  • Submit conservation plan once every two years to California NRCS State Conservationist for review and approval.
  • Maintain training records.