Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has established a process for conservation planning called the “Nine-Step Conservation Planning Process.” The process provides a template for conservation planners to follow when working one-on-one with farmers and ranchers, or in a collaborative setting with multiple individuals, units of government and/or other stakeholders. Briefly, the nine steps include:
1. Identify problems and opportunities
2. Determine objectives
3. Inventory the natural resources
4. Analyze the resource data
5. Formulate alternatives to address the resource concerns
6. Evaluate the alternatives
7. Make decisions
8. Implement the plan
9. Evaluate the implemented plan
Further description and discussion of the nine-step process can be found in the NRCS National Planning Procedures Handbook, Subpart C.46
These nine steps are further divided into three phases. Steps 1 through 4 are labeled as Phase 1- Collection and Analysis, steps 5 through 7 as Phase 2- Decision Support, and steps 8 and 9 as Phase III- Application and Evaluation. In the Collection and Analysis phase, NRCS has adopted the phrase “natural resource concerns” or simply “resource concerns” to embody the suite of natural resource issues and problems which the agency will address technically and/or financially. The resource concerns are categorized as effects to soil, water, air, plants, animals and energy. Although NRCS will use general terms like “watershed health” in describing broad issues on the landscape, conservation planners are required to narrow their investigations down to these six resource categories. The complete set of defined resource concerns that NRCS addresses can be found in the NRCS's National and State Resource Concerns and Planning Criteria (Appendix B, Exhibit 5-1), including how the concerns are analyzed, a description of the tools used to assess the problems, and any thresholds that clarify the extent of the problem. This list of resource concerns is modified from time to time to capture new national priorities or to take advantage of new conservation technologies. Ideally, NRCS prefers to assess all resource concerns on a land unit before moving to the Decision Support phase of planning. Treating resource concerns independently has some inherent risks, whereby treatment of one resource concern can aggravate or make more complex the treatment of another resource concern in the future. However, oftentimes programmatic timelines/guidelines, producer time constraints, staffing limitations, etc., will dictate a progressive planning approach be made in assessing resource concerns.
46. Subpart C - NRCS Planning Process. In: NRCS eDirectives - Part 600 - National Planning Procedures Handbook. 1st ed. United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service; 2014. https://directives.sc.egov.usda.gov/OpenNonWebContent.aspx?content=36482.wba.