The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a federal agency under the United States Department of Agriculture that provides technical assistance on conservation to farmers, private landowners and managers. This agency was previously known as Soil Conservation Service and was established in 1935. The NRCS is a pioneer in conserving soil, water, and other natural resources in partnership with private land owners and managers. NRCS provides customer specific technical assistance based on sound science and financial assistance for various conservation activities. Participation in NRCS programs is voluntary.
The Conservation Technical Assistance program conducted by NRCS provides voluntary conservation technical assistance to land-users, communities, units of state and local government, and other federal agencies in planning and implementing conservation systems. The services of NRCS extend to all segments of the agricultural community, including underserved and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
NRCS manages natural resource conservation programs that provide environmental, societal, financial, and technical benefits. The agency’s science and technology activities provide technical expertise in areas such as animal husbandry and clean water, ecological sciences, engineering, resource economics, and social sciences. NRCS provides expertise in soil science and leadership for soil surveys and for the National Resources Inventory, which assesses natural resource conditions and trends in the United States. NRCS also participates in international scientific and technical exchanges, and provides technical assistance to foreign governments.
All the activities of the NRCS are headed up by the Chief. The Chief is assisted by the Associate Chief in planning, coordinating, and directing the activities of NRCS, as well as the work of the divisions and staffs within the Office of the Chief. Strategic Natural Resource Issues, Legislative Affairs Division, Public Affairs Division, and Civil Rights Division operate under the Office of the Chief.
A Regional Conservationist heads the organization in its East, Central, and West regions. The Regional Conservationist is responsible for providing overall direction of programs and activities conducted by NRCS consistent with the Chief’s guidance. The Regional Conservationist represents the Chief at meetings; and supervises the State Conservationists, and the Directors of the Pacific Basin and Caribbean Areas.
The development of national policies, establishment and promulgation of procedures, guidelines and standards are the duties of the Management Deputy. Agency and operational leadership for management services, human resources management, information technology, ethics programs, and headquarters administrative support are provided by this deputy. Assessment of emerging legislation, policies, operations issues and conditions, and develops management options and plans for managing the agency are also the responsibilities of NRCS.
The Programs Deputy manages natural resource conservation programs that provide environmental, societal, financial, and technical benefits that include on-site and other benefits such as sustaining and improving agricultural productivity, cleaner, safer, and more dependable water supplies, reduced damages caused by floods and other natural disasters, and enhancing the natural resource base to support continuing economic development, recreation, and other purposes.
Animal husbandry and clean water, ecological sciences, engineering, resource economics, and social sciences come under the Science and Technology Deputy area. This deputy area also manages technical service provider activities, and technology support for NRCS science and technology activities, the National Centers and the National Technology Support Centers.
The Soil Survey and Resource Assessment Deputy controls divisions, institutes and centers related to soil science, soil survey and resource assessment. It provides technical assistance to foreign governments, and international scientific and technical exchange. This deputy leads the use of geospatial technologies such as GIS, GPS, and remote sensing in NRCS for establishing geospatial data standards for the agency. It conducts National Resources Inventory for assessment of natural resource conditions and trends in the U.S. and policy making. This deputy area coordinates with the NRCS Science and Technology deputy to set research and technology development priorities for the agency. It also plays a primary role in homeland security operations.
The accountability for performance and results is ensured by the Strategic Planning and Accountability Deputy through the integration of strategic planning, budget formulation, operations management, oversight and evaluation. The process involves establishing and communicating agency direction in the strategic performance and business plans; estimating and requesting resources required to accomplish goals and objectives; ensuring agency operations are efficient and effective; measuring and reporting on performance and customer satisfaction; and providing oversight and evaluation of agency operations.
Financial resources of the agency are controlled by the Financial Management Deputy. It develops the financial policy, oversees the financial systems, accounting operations, budget operations, fiscal operations and annual financial audits.
NRCS conducts conservation programs on –
- Conservation Technical Assistance Program and Activities,
- Environmental Improvement,
- Water Resources,
- Community Assistance Programs and Activities,
- Technical Processes, Tools and Other technical Resources,
- Conservation Issues and Strategies,
- Resource Inventory and Assessment,
- Compliance, Appeals, Mediation, and Relief.
Conservation districts, Local communities, State and federal agencies, NRCS Earth Team volunteers, Agricultural and environmental groups, Conservation Districts Employees-Professional Societies, Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Councils, Universities, Conservation organizations, Agribusiness, and Sportsman Groups join with NRCS as partners in conservation.
The federal, state, and nonprofit groups, as partners of NRCS have a diversity of expertise in discipline, location/area, and focus. These groups share their unique areas of expertise and conservation work to put more conservation on the land.
NARC’s partners include:
- The National Association of Conservation Districts – This is a national organization for 3,000 local conservational districts that are units of government responsible for the soil and water conservation work within their boundaries across the country. These districts increase voluntary conservation practices among farmers, ranchers and other land users.
- The National Conservation Districts Employees Association – This association operates to strengthen and promote district programs on conservation by providing assistance, information, and representation, and by supporting the professionalism of conservation district employees.
- The National Association of State Conservation Agencies – This is a coalition of state conservation agencies that provide guidance and funding for conservation districts. This association operates numerous state environmental, sediment control, and soil erosion prevention programs.
- The National Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils – This association is a collective voice for more than 300 local Resource Conservation and Development Councils nationwide. It advocates and assists local councils to identify and act on issues and opportunities for improvement of the quality of life and environment in their communities.
- Joint Forestry Team – This team was chartered by NRCS, the National Association of State Foresters, the National Association of Conservation Districts, and the Forest Service to make recommendations for coordinated inter-agency delivery of forestry and conservation assistance for working forests, farms, and ranches. The Joint Forestry Team’s memorandum of understanding, describes each organization’s roles, and responsibilities and the actions to be undertaken to improve the delivery of forestry-related conservation assistance to private landowners.
- Restore America’s Estuaries – A Memorandum of Understanding was recently signed by NRCS with Restore America’s Estuaries for activities designed to maintain and enhance coastal, estuarine and marine habitats and associated species.