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Nine Step Conservation Planning Process

The Natural Resources Conservation Service uses a nine step planning process whenever it begins a project. The purpose of the steps is to develop and implement plans that protect, conserve, and enhance natural resources within a social and economic perspective. 

1 - Identify Problems and Opportunities

Everyone needs a reason to plan.  Planning can start with a problem, an opportunity, shared concerns, or a perceived threat. Initial opportunities and problems are first identified based on readily available information provided by the client(s). There may be information available through the County Conservation Districts or through a larger-scale conservation plan.  The Little River Salt Marsh Restoration Project is an excellent example of how this process worked on an area-wide scale, with multiple stakeholders and objectives. 


Step 1 - Problem Identification


Step 2 - Determining Objectives  

2 - Determine Objectives

During this step, the stakeholders identify their objectives.  A conservationist guides the process so that it includes both the stakeholder needs and values and the resource uses and on-site and off-site ecological protection. Objectives may need to be revised and modified as new information is learned later in the inventory and analysis stages. Objectives may not be finalized until Step 4 of the planning process.


3 - Inventory Resources

In this step, appropriate natural resource, economic and social information for the planning area is collected. The information will be used to further define the problems and opportunities. It will also be used throughout the entire process to define alternatives and to evaluate the plan. It is important that as much information as possible can be collected so that the plan will fit both the needs of the landowner and the natural resources. Inventories can range from a farmstead or small watershed all the way up to a complete inventory of resources for a state or the entire nation, such as with the NRCS National Resources Inventory or the Soil Survey Program.


 Step 3 - Inventory Resources


Step 4 - Analyze Resource Data  

4 - Analyze Resource Data 

Study the resource data and clearly define existing conditions for all of the natural resources, including limitations and potential for the desired use. This step is crucial to developing plans that will work for a landowner and their land. It also provides a clear understanding of the baseline conditions will help to judge how effective a project is after it has been put into place.


5 - Formulate Alternatives

The purpose of this step is to achieve the goals for the land, by solving all identified problems, taking advantage of opportunities, and meeting the social, economic, and environmental needs of the planning project. With NRCS conservation planning, we often can help landowners formulate alternatives based on cost-sharing programs that help offset the financial expense of implementing conservation practices.


Step 5 - Formulate Alternatives


Step 6 - Evaluate Alternatives  

6 - Evaluate Alternatives 

Evaluate the alternatives to determine their effectiveness in addressing the clients problems, opportunities and objectives. Attention must be given to those ecological values protected by law or executive order.


7 - Make Decisions

At this point the landowner chooses which project or plan will work best for their situation. The planner prepares the documentation. In the case of an areawide plan, public review and comment are obtained before a decision is reached.


Step 7 - Make Decisions


Step 8 - Implement the Plan  

8 - Implement the Plan  

Technical assistance is provided to help with the installation of adequate and properly-designed conservation practices. At this point in NRCS conservation planning, our conservation engineers step in and make designs based on our technical standards. Also, assistance is given in obtaining permits, land rights, surveys, final designs, and inspections for structural practices.  


9 - Evaluate the Plan

Conservation planning is an ongoing process, that continues long after the implementation of a conservation practice. By evaluating the effectiveness of a conservation plan or a practice within a plan, stakeholders can decide whether to continue with other aspects of an overall areawide plan.  


Step 9 - Evaluate the Plan