M_440_525 - Part 525 - Conservation Operations Technical Assistance Program (COTA) (Archived)

Table of Contents - Conservation Technical Assistance Progra

Part 525 – Conservation Technical Assistance Program

Table of Contents

Subpart A – General Program Information

525.01 Conservation Technical Assistance Program

525.02 NRCS Responsibilities

525.03 Relationship to Partners

525.04 Withdrawal of Technical Assistance

525.05 Infrastructure Support

Subpart B – Program Administration

525.10 Communications

525.11 Outreach

525.12 Training

525.13 Confidentiality, Freedom of Information Act, and Privacy Act

525.14 National Program for Soil and Water Conservation

Subpart C – Providing Conservation Technical Assistance

525.20 Delivering Conservation Technical Assistance

525.21 Conservation Districts

525.22 Conservation Technical Assistance to Federal Agencies

525.23 Conservation Technical Assistance to Private Individuals on Federal Lands

525.24 Conservation Technical Assistance to Tribal, State and Local Governments

525.25 Conservation Technical Assistance on a Larger Geographic Area

Subpart D – Environmental Compliance, Resource Analysis, and Technology

525.30 Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Compliance

525.31 Compliance with Laws and Regulations

525.32 Environmental and Cultural Resource Compliance

525.33 Collecting, Analyzing and Displaying Natural Resource Data

525.34 Conservation Effects

525.35 Technology Development and Transfer

Subpart E – Program Management

525.40 Fund Management

525.41 Accountability

Subpart F – Exhibits

525.50 Forms (Reserved)

525.51 CTA Program Logic Model

Subpart G – Glossary

525.60 Glossary of Terms (Reserved)

525.61 Glossary of Abbreviations (Reserved)

[M_440_525 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

Subpart A – General Program Information

525.01 - Conservation Technical Assistance Progr

Part 525 – Conservation Technical Assistance Program

Subpart A – General Program Information

525.01  Conservation Technical Assistance Program

(a)  Background

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is the Department of Agriculture’s principal agency for providing conservation technical assistance to private landowners, conservation districts, tribes, and other organizations through a national network of locally respected, technically skilled, professional conservationists.  These conservationists deliver consistent, science-based, site-specific solutions to help private landowners voluntarily conserve, maintain, and improve the Nation’s natural resource base.

The Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) Program is the foundation of this conservation technical assistance and serves to focus on natural resource issues at the local level that are of local, State, multi-state, and national concern.  The CTA Program works in partnership with locally led decision-making processes and other conservation programs to augment the Federal investment in order to address national priorities in concert with local and State needs most effectively.  The CTA Program is the foundation for much of the Nation’s private lands and Indian lands conservation assistance infrastructure and brings to bear the technical expertise to get sound conservation solutions applied on the ground.

NRCS’ conservation planning process, locally adapted Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG) of proven conservation practices/systems, and technical knowledge is at the core of the effective CTA Program delivery system.  NRCS receives worldwide recognition as a preeminent Agency for providing private lands natural resources conservation assistance largely because of the technical assistance provided through the CTA Program.

The CTA Program is funded through the Agency’s Conservation Operations (CO) discretionary funds. The majority of funds for the CTA Program are used for staff costs (salary, benefits, etc.) and other essential infrastructure support activities such as:

·         Developing, evaluating, and improving conservation technologies.

·         Developing and distributing program and technical information materials.

·         Conducting program assessments.

·         Carrying out natural resource inventories.

·         Paying the costs of training, travel, and other activities associated with operating a nationwide field delivery system. 

The remainder of this part provides information, guidance, and policy for administering the CTA Program.  This section defines the purpose, identifies the authorities and regulations, and outlines the objectives and scope of the CTA Program.  It also addresses the public participation process for establishing CTA Program priorities, and the various roles in delivery of the program.

(b)  Purpose

The purpose of the CTA Program is to provide technical assistance supported by science-based technology and tools to help people conserve, maintain, and improve their natural resources. The CTA Program provides the technical capability, including direct conservation planning, design, and implementation assistance, that helps people plan and apply conservation on the land.  This assistance is provided to individuals, groups, and communities who make natural resource management decisions on private, tribal, and other non-federal lands.

The CTA Program provides the proven and consistent conservation technology and delivery infrastructure needed to achieve the benefits of a healthy and productive landscape, and has the following purposes:

·         Reduce soil loss from erosion.

·         Solve soil, water quality, water conservation, air quality, and agricultural waste      management problems.

·         Reduce potential damage caused by excess water and sedimentation or drought.

·         Enhance the quality of fish and wildlife habitat.

·         Improve the long term sustainability of all lands, including cropland, forestland, grazing lands, coastal lands, and developed and/or developing lands.

·         Assist others in facilitating changes in land use as needed for natural resource protection and sustainability.

(c)  Authorities and Regulations

The statutory authorities for the policy contained in this part include the following:

·         Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1935 (P. L. 74-46) (16 U.S.C. 590 a-g), (590q).

·         Soil Information Assistance for Community Planning and Resource Development Act of 1966 (P.L. 89-560) (42 U.S.C., Chapter 40, Sections 3271-3274).

·         Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-192).

·         Land Conservation and Land Utilization Act of 1981(P.L. 97-98, Title XV, Section 151395 Stat.1333).

·         Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-127).

·         Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-171).

·         Annual appropriation bills that fund the agency. 

The CTA Program Rule, 7 CFR Part 610, provides the purpose and scope of the technical assistance furnished through the program.  This rule provides that the CTA Program is the base technical assistance program for natural resource conservation for the NRCS.  NRCS is assigned responsibility by the Secretary of Agriculture for the technical phases of planning and applying conservation practices on the land through decision makers.  The assignment includes:

·         Assisting land managers to identify natural resource problems and opportunities.

·         Presenting the decision maker with needed and feasible conservation practices/systems to solve natural resource problems. 

·         Planning and designing conservation practices on sites identified by the decision maker.

·         Providing assistance for installing conservation practices.

·         Certifying that practices installed are in accordance with NRCS standards.

(d)  Objectives

The objectives of the CTA Program are to:

·         Provide conservation technical assistance to individuals or groups of decision makers, communities, conservation districts, units of State and local government, tribes, and others to voluntarily conserve, maintain, and improve natural resources. 

·         Provide community, watershed, and area-wide technical assistance in collaboration with units of government, to develop and implement resource management plans that conserve, maintain and improve natural resources.,

·         Provide conservation technical assistance to agricultural producers to comply with the Highly Erodible Land (HEL) and Wetland (Swampbuster) Conservation Compliance Provisions of the l985 Food Security Act, as amended. 

·         Provide conservation technical assistance to decision makers to assist them to comply with Federal, State, tribal, and local environmental regulations and related requirements, and to prepare them to become eligible to participate in other Federal, State, and local conservation programs. 

·         Provide soils information and interpretation to individuals or groups of decision makers, communities, States, and others to aid sound decision making in the wise use and management of soil resources.

·         Collect, analyze, interpret, display, and disseminate information about the status, condition, and trend of soil, water, and related natural resources so that people can make informed decisions for natural resource use and management. 

·         Assess the effects of conservation practices and systems on the condition of natural resources.  

·         Develop, adapt, and transfer effective science-based technologies and tools for assessment, management, and conservation of natural resources.

(e)  Scope of the Program

The CTA Program is the foundation of the Nation’s Federal conservation efforts on private lands, which is implemented in cooperation with the Agency’s partners.  The program is delivered to private individuals, groups of decision makers, tribes, units of governments, and non-governmental organizations in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Marshall Islands.

NRCS, through the CTA Program, provides conservation technical assistance to individuals, communities, and units of government to improve the long-term sustainability of the natural resource base on cropland, forestland, grazing lands, coastal lands, and developed/developing lands. Conservation technical assistance on Federal lands involving a significant amount of NRCS resources can be provided only through formal agreements.

(f)  Public Participation

Public participation is important in identifying and inventorying natural resource issues, planning, implementation activities, and evaluation. The CTA Program uses public participation to improve decision making relating to NRCS programs and related responsibilities and activities (General Manual, Title 400, Part 400).

Public participation activities are to be consistent with the requirements of applicable Federal statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) policy (See General Manual, Title 190, Part 410) and regulations, Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations, National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) regulations and policy, (See 36 CFR Part 800 and General Manual, Title 420, Part 401), Indian Trust Responsibilities (See General Manual, Title 410, Part 405), and Civil Rights requirements, as well as any applicable local or State statutes.

NRCS works through, and in partnership, with conservation districts by participating in a locally led conservation process to assist individuals and groups with assessing conservation needs, making decisions, and implementing solutions. 

An essential step in locally led conservation is gathering input from a broad range of individuals, agencies, organizations, businesses, and Tribal Governments, because of their interest and familiarity with local natural resource needs and conditions.

(g)  CTA Program National Priorities and Initiatives

NRCS, through the CTA Program, provides conservation technical assistance that addresses natural resource conservation issues at the local level that are of State and national concern.  In addition to national priorities, CTA will address State, tribal, and local needs within available resources.  On a single or multi-year basis, the NRCS Chief establishes CTA Program national priorities and initiatives to focus resources on a specific program objective(s).  State Conservationists and Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas may establish additional priorities and initiatives for the CTA Program.  In all cases, the Chief, State Conservationists, and Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas have at their disposal a full array of processes to focus CTA Program resources on these priorities and/or initiatives.  These processes include, but are not limited to:

·         Strategically positioning staff to address natural resource needs.

·         Allocating program funds to address natural resource needs.

·         Establishing short-term and long-term performance measures and goals.

·         Establishing and implementing agreements and contracts.

·         Formulating, enhancing, and expanding partnerships.

·         Enabling the development and transfer of new and innovative technologies.

·         Providing conservation planning and other technical assistance to help decision makers meet eligibility requirements for USDA programs and other Federal, State and local conservation programs.

·         Conducting technical and program evaluations and assessments.

·         Conducting resource inventories and assessments.

·         Developing and administering training.

·         Expanding technical capacity, including the use of technical service providers (TSPs).

·         Providing public information and conducting outreach.

Additionally, the Chief may pursue budget requests through the Departmental budget formulation process to seek additional funding for priorities and initiatives.

In establishing CTA Program priorities and/or initiatives, the Chief, State Conservationists, and the Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas have full discretion to use all available mechanisms and processes to seek internal and external input consistent with all applicable rules, regulations, and policies.

(h)  Relation to Other Conservation Provisions and Programs

The CTA Program provides the local delivery system and the foundation technical expertise for other NRCS programs.  The CTA Program is unique because it provides a substantive level of technical expertise, background and support for Federal, tribal, State, and local conservation programs.  This technical base enables other NRCS programs by facilitating conservation planning, interagency coordination, technical consultations, and collaboration with decision makers. For example, the CTA Program assists in preparing landowners and decision makers for participation in USDA conservation financial assistance and easement programs.  The CTA Program also provides much of the preliminary emergency disaster technical assistance for the Agency's Emergency Watershed Protection Program.  The CTA Program also is available to assist clients with maintenance of conservation plans and practices/systems that resulted through expired or completed financially-assisted contracts or projects. The CTA Program also is used to assist decision makers for conservation planning prior to the commitment or approval of a participant’s funding for financial assistance.

Consistent with Agency priorities and available resources, other agencies’ financial assistance programs benefit from NRCS locally available technical staff, technology, and site-specific natural resource data.  Examples of other Federal, State and local programs include the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Farm Loan and Conservation Reserve Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Nonpoint Source Management (S.319) Program, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Partners for Wildlife Program.  Moreover, the CTA Program often furnishes the conservation planning and other technical assistance needed to help decision makers meet eligibility requirements for USDA programs.

Additionally, NRCS has working relationships through the CTA Program with a number of other partners such as wildlife and environmental organizations and commodity and livestock groups that assist with the conservation effort on private lands.

The CTA Program also facilitates the use of soil survey information developed and published by the Agency’s Soil Survey Program.  The soils information and technical consultation and assistance provided through the CTA Program increase the practical use of soils information and mapping for the wise use and management of soil resources.

Recipients of CTA Program assistance are not specifically subject to the Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Provisions of the Food Security Act of 1985, as amended (16 U.S.C. §3801,  §§3811-3814, and §§3821-3824), unless the recipient is receiving benefits from other USDA programs where the conservation compliance provisions apply (see 7 CFR 12.4 and the NFSAM, Part 510).

(i)  State Supplements

Any supplements to this policy, by a State Conservationist or the Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas, shall be consistent with the national policy for the CTA Program. Proposed State policy supplements, and supporting justification, must be submitted to the Director of the Conservation Planning and Technical Assistance Division for approval.

[M_440_525_A_01 - Amendment 15 - October 2006]

525.02 - NRCS Responsibilities

525.02  NRCS Responsibilities

NRCS has the responsibility to implement the CTA Program. This implementation will be consistent with NRCS Civil Rights and outreach policies, and government-to-government relationship with Tribal governments.

(a)  Chief

The Chief is responsible for providing overall national leadership and is the responsible Federal official and allottee for the CTA Program.  The Chief also:

·         Establishes national policies, priorities, and initiatives.

·         Assures compliance with Civil Rights.

·         Ensures that outreach and special emphasis efforts support the Agency’s mission.

·         Ensures information sharing and communication.

·         Directs legislative activities.

·         Approves State and national annual and long-term performance goals.

·         Makes funding decisions.

·         Leverages staff capacity by supporting the use of Earth Team Volunteers and technical service providers (TSPs).

(b)  Deputy Chief for Programs

The Deputy Chief for Programs is responsible for providing national leadership for the CTA Program, including the following activities:

·         Develops and administers the program, including policy recommendations.

·         Establishes long-term performance goals that accomplish Strategic Plan objectives.

·         Establishes annual performance goals commensurate with funding.

·         Recommends funding methodology and allocations.

·         Recommends CTA Program funded budget line items in consultation with other Deputy Chiefs.

·         Coordinates with other agencies on program issues and priorities.

·         Provides waivers of administrative procedures, as warranted.

·         Leverages staff capacity by supporting the use of Earth Team Volunteers and TSPs.

·         Performs other responsibilities delegated by the Chief.

(c)  Deputy Chiefs for Management, Science and Technology, Soil Survey and Resource Assessment, and Strategic Planning and Accountability

The Deputy Chiefs for Management, Science and Technology, Soil Survey and Resource Assessment, and Strategic Planning and Accountability participate under the leadership of the Deputy Chief for Programs in the overall formulation and direction of the CTA Program.  Their participation supports the planning, coordination, evaluation, and delivery of technical assistance.  All Deputy Chiefs work collaboratively to ensure that CTA Program funds are expended efficiently and effectively in accomplishing program objectives.

Consistent with their assigned functions, the following Deputy Chiefs support the delivery of CTA Program assistance by providing leadership and guidance for:

(1)        Deputy Chief for Management

·         Administrative and management activities, development of administrative procedures, and procurement of tools, equipment, and space.

·         Contracts and agreements to expand and enhance program implementation.

·         Outreach and special emphasis activities.

·         Coordination of Homeland Security efforts to protect staff and infrastructure.

·         Ensuring financial controls maintain program financial integrity.

·         National training curriculum and other educational opportunities.

·         Leveraging staff capacity by supporting the use of Earth Team Volunteers and TSPs.

(2)        Deputy Chief for Science and Technology

·         Acquisition, development, evaluation, and dissemination of new, proven technologies that are adaptable for use throughout the entire scope of the program.

·         Development and delivery of technical training

·         Establishment, maintenance, and update of policies, guidelines, standards, and procedures for technology development and transfer, and environmental and cultural resources compliance.

·         Setting research priorities.

·         Leveraging staff capacity by supporting the use of Earth Team Volunteers and TSPs.

(3)        Deputy Chief for Soil Survey and Resource Assessment

·         Acquisition, development, evaluation, and dissemination of new technologies, as related to geo-spatial and remote sensing analysis.

·         Natural resource inventory, analysis, and assessment of conservation effects.

·         Strategies and actions related to global climate change, including carbon sequestration.

·         Technical consultation and assistance in the distribution, interpretation, application, and use of soil survey information.

·         Coordination of Homeland Security efforts to protect staff and infrastructure.

·         Leveraging staff capacity by supporting the use of Earth Team Volunteers and TSPs.

(4)        Deputy Chief for Strategic Planning and Accountability

·         Strategic planning, budget formulation, performance measurement, progress reporting, and oversight and evaluation.

·         Workload assessment.

·         Identification of program costs.

·         Coordinating program evaluations and assessments.

·         Coordination of audits, investigations, and reviews by external oversight agencies.

·         Formulating budget requests linked to performance goals.

·         Leveraging staff capacity by supporting the use of Earth Team Volunteers and TSPs.

(d)  Director, Conservation Planning and Technical Assistance Division

The Director of the Conservation Planning and Technical Assistance Division provides for:

·         Overall CTA Program coordination, management, and operation including interpretation of CTA Program policies and procedures.

·         Establishment of effective CTA Program management and operations controls through policy recommendations and procedures, including amending the CTA Program component of the Conservation Programs Manual (CPM).

·         Establishment of long-term performance goals that accomplish Strategic Plan objectives.

·         Establishment of annual performance goals commensurate with funding.

·         Funding methodology and allocation recommendations.

·         Monitoring of CTA Program funds and performance.

·         Maintenance of program liaison and working relationships with State Conservationists, partners, conservation districts, state conservation agencies, and with other agencies and organizations.

·         Development of minimum qualifications criteria for providers of conservation planning technical assistance, including comprehensive nutrient management planning for confined livestock operations.

·         Maintenance of conservation planning policy located in General Manual, Title 180, Part 409 and the procedures as outlined in the National Planning Procedures Handbook.

·         Maintenance of highly erodible land and wetland conservation policy in the National Food Security Act Manual, (180-V-NFSAM).

·         CTA Program guidance and training to NRCS personnel (including special emphasis areas such as developed/developing land, coastal resources, and comprehensive nutrient management planning issues).

·         Providing leadership support for CTA Program evaluation and assessments for the purpose of continuous program improvement.

·         Leveraging staff capacity by supporting the use of Earth Team Volunteers and TSPs.

·         Other responsibilities delegated by the Deputy Chief for Programs.

(e)  Regional Assistant Chiefs

The Regional Assistant Chiefs will perform those responsibilities delegated by the Chief.

(f)  State Conservationists. Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas

State Conservationists and the Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas will:

·         Provide leadership for the management and implementation of the CTA Program within the State, while ensuring compliance with Civil Rights, special emphasis activities, and outreach responsibilities.

·         Establish CTA Program priorities through locally-led efforts.

·         Establish CTA Program annual goals commensurate with funding.

·         Ensure CTA Program performance and accountability.

·         Ensure compliance of environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

·         Determine fund distribution within the State to staff, train, and support an effective technical assistance delivery system.

·         Administer agreements, contracts, and payments.

·         Implement Highly Erodible Land Compliance (HELC) and Wetland Conservation (WC) policy (Title 180, National Food Security Act Manual).

·         Address program appeals, including HELC and WC.

·         Provide sufficient management controls to ensure fund accountability.

·         Ensure technical quality and provide technical approval of work performed by NRCS, and where applicable, other State and local units of government employees.

·         Establish program guidance for field offices providing assistance to developed/developing   areas.

·         Ensure NRCS involvement in collaborative community, watershed, and area-wide technical assistance.

·         Implement policy and procedures related to State Technical Committees, as set forth in Conservation Programs Manual, Part 501, Subpart B.

·         Ensure employees and TSPs operating under NRCS’ auspices have appropriate qualifications and certifications for conservation planning, design and implementation, as required.

·         As appropriate, performs quality reviews of technical work performed by TSPs.

·         Enter into agreements with other organizations and units of government, including American Indian tribal governments, to provide conservation program assistance to supplement the NRCS technical delivery system.

·         Determine the level of NRCS assistance to be provided in areas without conservation districts.

·         Provide technical assistance for programs mandated by Congress in the absence of a cooperative working agreement with the conservation district.

·         Provide leadership for information sharing and communication activities within the State.

·         Provide leadership in training the NRCS workforce within the State.

·         Ensure Field Office Technical Guides (FOTGs) are accurate and current.

·         Approve pilot testing of new technologies or innovative conservation practices.

·         Ensure that the government-to-government consultative process with American Indian Tribes is carried out within the State.

·         Notify clients in writing of a decision to withdraw technical assistance.

·         Leverage staff capacity by using Earth Team Volunteers and TSPs.

(g)  Assistant State Conservationists and Area Conservationists

Assistant State Conservationists and Area Conservationists will perform responsibilities as delegated by the State Conservationist or Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas.

(h)  District Conservationists

The District Conservationist (or designated conservationist) will:

·         Provide leadership for the management and implementation of the CTA Program at the local level, while ensuring NRCS compliance with Civil Rights, outreach, and special emphasis responsibilities.

·         Ensure program performance and accountability consistent with annual performance goals.

·         Serve as the Agency’s local point of contact with the conservation district, Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Councils, tribes, local units of government and other organizations.

·         Receive and address technical assistance requests from customers in accordance with policies and procedures outlined in the National Planning Procedures Handbook, Conservation Programs Manual, and other Agency manuals and handbooks.

·         Provide conservation planning assistance, resulting in the development and presentation of viable alternatives for the decision maker to consider.

·         Assist with the planning and implementation of conservation management systems and their associated practices as needed by the decision maker.

·         Lead NRCS involvement in collaborative community, watershed, and area-wide technical assistance.

·         Assists the State Conservationist to ensure FOTGs are accurate and current.

·         Recommend innovative conservation technologies, practices, and approaches to the State Conservationist through appropriate channels.

·         Ensure technical quality and provide technical approval of work performed by NRCS, and where applicable, other State and local unit of government employees.

·         As appropriate, performs quality reviews of technical work performed by TSPs.

·         Participate in the locally led process.

·         Provide leadership in carrying out communication activities at the local level.

·         Report or coordinate the reporting of time and accomplishments into the NRCS Integrated Accountability System (i.e., TCAS and PRS).

·         Carry out core functions and business processes, as in Conservation Programs Manual, Section 525.41.

·         Assist the State Conservationist in the appeals process, as in Conservation Programs Manual, Part 510.

·         Lead the Department of Agriculture (USDA) Local Work Group Conservation Programs Manual, Section 501.02).

·         Submit procedural change recommendations to the State Conservationist and Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas.

·         Recommend to the State Conservationist those instances where NRCS technical assistance should be withdrawn, consistent with Agency policy, and through appropriate channels.

·         Provide appropriate training to field office staff and volunteers.

·         Perform other activities delegated by the State Conservationist.

·         Leverage staff capacity by using Earth Team Volunteers and TSPs.

[M_440_525_A_02 - Amendment 15 - October 2006]

525.03 - Relationship to Partners

525.03 Relationship to Partners

The scope and effectiveness of the CTA Program may be expanded and enhanced through contributions from conservation districts, natural resource districts, American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives, other agencies, and the private sector. Contributions must be consistent with NRCS policies and are generally formalized through agreements. When providing conservation technical assistance under NRCS’s technical supervision, the contributing partners will adhere to NRCS FOTG conservation practice standards and specifications and related policies, as applicable.

(a) Conservation Districts

Conservation districts, also known as soil conservation districts, soil and water conservation districts, natural resource districts, and tribal conservation districts, may perform the following CTA Program activities under Mutual, Cooperative Working, operational, and contribution agreements:

·         Approve conservation plans, as per conservation district policy.

·         Provide technical assistance.

·         Provide administrative support.

·         Lead the locally led process.

·         Provide input on local natural resource concerns and recommendations to NRCS for CTA Program priorities and procedures.

·         Lead local communication and public participation, and assist with outreach programs.

·         Consult with NRCS on conservation program appeals relating to adverse decisions or determinations that are subject to the administrative appeal process.

·         Convene the USDA Local Work Group.

·         Assist with the Earth Team Volunteer Program.

·         Become a certified TSP.

(b) Tribes

NRCS, through the CTA Program, has a “Trust” responsibility to deliver service to American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives through a government-to-government relationship. The State Conservationist will consult with federally recognized tribes to determine the optimum means for delivering NRCS programs, CTA Program services, and for protecting special resources of concern to the tribal governments (See General Manual, Title 410, Part 405). Federally recognized Tribes may participate in the CTA Program by:

·         Providing input to NRCS on local natural resource concerns and priorities.

·         Leading the locally lead process.

·         Providing technical and administrative support.

·         Serving as a member of the State Technical Committee and/or local work group.

·         Becoming a certified TSP.

(c) Government-to-Government Consultation

NRCS has a "Trust" responsibility to deliver CTA Program services to American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives through a government-to-government relationship. Federal agencies are required to remove procedural impediments to working effectively with tribal governments in the delivery of programs and services, and to develop the best mechanism for delivering programs and services to federally recognized tribes through a consultative process. The State Conservationist will consult with federally recognized tribes to determine the optimum means for delivering NRCS programs, CTA Program services, and for protecting special resources of concern to the tribal governments as outlined in the General Manual, Title 410, Parts 401 and 405.

(d) Other Federal and State Agencies

Other Federal and State agencies may participate in the CTA Program by:

·         Serving as a member of the State Technical Committee and/or local work groups.

·         Providing input and recommendations to NRCS on CTA Program priorities and procedures.

·         Assisting NRCS with communication, public participation, and outreach activities.

·         Providing training, technical assistance, and financial support where appropriate.

·         Becoming a certified TSP.

·         Providing training, technical assistance, and financial support, where appropriate.

·         Providing clerical, administrative, and other support to NRCS.

·         Augmenting CTA Program resources when objectives are similar.

(e) Private Sector

Private individuals, organizations, and businesses may participate in providing technical assistance in the CTA Program by:

·         Developing conservation plans and implementing conservation practices and systems.

·         Assisting the District Conservationist in the conservation planning process.

·         Becoming a certified TSP.

·         Participating in State Technical Committee meetings according to policy outlined in 7 CFR 610.22.

·         Assisting NRCS with communication, public participation, and outreach activities.

[M_440_525_A_03 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.04 - Withdrawal of Technical Assistance

525.04 Withdrawal of Technical Assistance

Conservation technical assistance and the planning process used by NRCS is based on the premise that informed clients will make and implement sound decisions that will benefit the condition of their natural resources.

There are times, however, when withdrawal of technical assistance becomes necessary. Technical assistance may be withdrawn from a client when:

·         A client, with deliberate intent, fails to follow NRCS conservation practice standards and specifications for the application of NRCS-assisted practices.

·         A client fails to comply with or will not agree to permit NRCS to comply with local, State, tribal, or Federal regulatory requirements.

·         A client’s objectives will result in a negative effect on natural resources, on-site or off-site.

·         Staff resources are limited and a client’s needs do not fit within CTA Program priorities for use of these staff.

·         A client, in his/her treatment of NRCS personnel, violates the Agency’s Civil Rights and/or sexual harassment policies.

·         The safety and/or health of Agency personnel are threatened.

·         A client requests termination of technical assistance.

The decision to withdraw technical assistance from a client resides with the State Conservationist. The State Conservationist should establish a process to use in his/her State for the withdrawal of technical assistance. The State Conservationist or his or her designee will notify the client in writing of the decision to withdraw technical assistance. The decision and supporting rationale to withdraw technical assistance will be documented in the client’s case file. In addition, the State Conservationist or designee will notify the conservation district of the action.

If technical assistance is being provided to a Federal, State, tribal, or local government through a memorandum of understanding or similar agreement, the assistance may be terminated as outlined in the agreement or by the written mutual consent of all parties.

[M_440_525_A_04 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.05 - Infrastructure Support

525.05 Infrastructure Support

The strength of NRCS and the CTA Program is its staff of highly trained, professional technical employees and their working relationships with conservation districts and RC&D councils. In order to provide conservation technical assistance and the necessary infrastructure, funds for this program are used for staff costs (salary, benefits, etc.) and essential support activities such as the development, acquisition, and improvement of conservation technologies, the production and dissemination of information and marketing materials, program assessments, natural resource inventories, training, travel, and other costs associated with providing conservation planning and program delivery.

[M_440_525_A_05 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.60 - Glossary of Terms (Reserved)
[M_440_525_A_60 - October 2006]

525.61 - Glossary of Abbreviations (Reserved)
[M_440_525_A_61 - October 2006]

Subpart B – Program Administration

525.10 - Communications

Part 525 – Conservation Technical Assistance Program

Subpart B – Program Administration

525.10 Communications

(a) General Information

To inform customers and stakeholders concerning the activities and services available from the CTA Program, NRCS will maintain an information program. This activity is carried out in cooperation with other NRCS conservation communications activities.

(b) Purpose

The purpose of communications in support of the CTA Program is to provide information to, and gather information from, individuals and groups of decision makers, communities, conservation districts and other units of State, tribal, local government, and other Federal agencies to effectively help them conserve, maintain, and improve natural resources.

(c) Public Information

Public information delivers facts, success stories, and details about the services provided by the CTA Program, as well as identifying natural resource challenges and opportunities. Public information about the CTA Program is not an end in itself, and requires continuous effort by NRCS employees. It includes obtaining feedback to evaluate the effectiveness of the program’s information activities (General Manual, Title 260, Part 400).

Strong, continuous public information activity is required for the CTA Program to:

·         Achieve and maintain a high level of participation in voluntary conservation programs.

·         Reach the widest possible audience with information about the conservation and management of natural resources.

·         Keep the public informed about the renewable natural resource and cultural conservation work carried out through the CTA Program and about its effects and benefits.

·         Respond fully to information requests from the general public, communications media, organizations, and agencies.

NRCS will work with conservation districts, RC&D councils, State conservation agencies, the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, other cooperating agencies and organizations, and tribes at the State level to implement a coordinated information plan in support of the CTA Program, in accordance with the Public Participation Policy (General Manual, Title 400, Part 400).

[M_440_525_B_10 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.11 - Outreach

525.11 Outreach

(a) General Information

Outreach is an integral part of the overall delivery of NRCS programs and services to customers and potential beneficiaries.

(b) Purpose

The purpose of outreach is to take a proactive approach to ensure NRCS services are offered on a government-to-government basis to American Indian tribes and members and through appropriate means to other underserved and socially disadvantaged landowners and decision makers. NRCS will work continuously to identify and address potential barriers that could prevent tribes and underserved and socially disadvantaged customers from full participation in the CTA Program (General Manual, Title 230, Part 406).

(c) Conducting Outreach

NRCS, through the CTA Program, will conduct outreach in order to provide full access to Tribes and underserved and socially disadvantaged landowners and decision makers. The need for outreach activities will be based on analysis and evaluation of program services.

Outreach activities may include, but are not limited to:

·         Educating a diverse clientele as to the technical assistance available through the CTA Program to help them meet USDA program eligibility requirements and to address natural resource conservation needs.

·         Emphasizing a diversity of clientele in photos, news releases, and other media.

·         Conducting public participation meetings, workshops, and training sessions.

Providing special accommodations, to the extent possible, to ensure that CTA Program customers are informed and have access to information and assistance, such as using:

·         Language spoken by the intended audience.

·         Appropriate media sources to reach the intended audience.

[M_440_525_B_11 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.12 - Training

525.12 Training

(a) General Information

NRCS trains its employees to improve and maintain their technical proficiency and to provide leadership in natural resource conservation (See General Manual, Title 360, Part 410).Through the CTA Program, employees are trained to plan and apply conservation practices and systems based on many technical disciplines including agronomy, anthropology, archaeology, biology, cultural resources, ecology, economics, engineering, forestry, geology, history, hydrology, range conservation, sociology, soil conservation, and soil science. In addition, training is provided in program management and support. Identified training needs and accomplishments for employees will be documented in their individual development plans.

(b) Purpose

The training of employees serves to keep a technically trained workforce that is uniquely qualified to provide and interpret site-specific natural resource information and management options for conservation planning and application to carry out the objectives of the CTA Program.

(c) Training for Planning and Application Certification

(1) Conservation Planning

All NRCS employees providing conservation planning assistance will do so under the authority and technical supervision of a certified conservation planner. A certified conservation planner is a person who possesses the necessary skills to implement NRCS’ nine-step planning process to meet client objectives in solving natural resource problems. The Conservation Planning and Technical Assistance Division establishes minimum criteria to be met by NRCS employees and others to be a “certified conservation planner” (See General Manual, Title 180, Part 409.9). NRCS provides for certification of TSPs for conservation planning.

(2) Conservation Application

NRCS and partner employees perform engineering, agronomic, ecological, and other on-site technical work in delivering assistance through the CTA Program. This work generally is explained as on-site planning, surveying, design, construction layout, construction inspection, and checkout of the conservation practices/systems. Employees shall be trained to qualify them for certain job approvals for conservation practices/systems and to conduct environmental and cultural resource evaluations. NRCS policy for conservation engineering application assistance is located in the National Engineering Manual (Title 210 Part 501, Subpart A), National Environmental Compliance Handbook, and the National Cultural Resources Procedures Handbook. NRCS provides for certification of TSPs for conservation application.

(3) Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning (CNMP)

As a subset of a conservation plan that is unique to animal feeding operations (AFOs), a CNMP addresses natural resource concerns to the water quality criteria established in the FOTG. NRCS policy on preparing CNMPs is located in the National Planning Procedures Handbook, Amendment 4, Part 600.5, Subpart E. NRCS employees that have AFOs within their service area should become certified to develop CNMPs. Through the CTA Program, NRCS also provides a vehicle for TSPs to deliver direct technical assistance to customers wanting a CNMP.

[M_440_525_B_12 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.13 - Confidentiality, Freedom of Information Act, and Privacy Act

525.13 Confidentiality, Freedom of Information, and Privacy Act

(a) Confidentiality

Section 1244(b) of The Food Security Act of 1985, as amended by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, prohibits the release and disclosure of proprietary information unless certain exceptions apply. Specifically, NRCS shall not release or disclose to any person, organization, or Federal, State, local agency or tribe outside of the Department of Agriculture any information provided to NRCS by the client for the purpose of the delivery of technical or financial assistance to a program applicant or program participant with respect to a conservation program, including the CTA Program.

Section 304 of the National Historic Preservation Act (16 USC 470w-3) limits access to information on the location of sensitive historic and cultural properties if the Federal agency determines such disclosure risks significant violation of privacy or harm to the resources. This provision does not preclude or prevent necessary regulatory consultation regarding identification or protection of these resources.

(b) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1996 and Privacy Act (PA) of 1974

NRCS policy and procedures on FOIA and PA are contained in General Manual, Title 120, Part 408, Subpart C.

[M_440_525_B_13 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.14 - National Program for Soil and Water Conservation

525.14 National Program for Soil and Water Conservation

The Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977 (RCA), P.L. 95-192, authorized and directed the Secretary of Agriculture to continually appraise the soil, water, and related natural resources of the Nation. The national program required by the RCA was transmitted to Congress on December 21, 1982, along with a Statement of Policy. The policy states NRCS will develop and periodically update a program for furthering the conservation and protection of natural resources, and provide reports to Congress and the public containing information gathered during the appraisal and the development of the program. The CTA Program is used to conduct the appraisal and uses it as a guide in carrying out the activities of NRCS (SeeGeneral Manual, Title 130 Part 402).

[M_440_525_B_14 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

Subpart C – Providing Conservation Technical Assistance

525.20 - Delivering Conservation Technical Assistance

Part 525 — Conservation Technical Assistance Program

Subpart C – Providing Conservation Technical Assistance

525.20 Delivering Conservation Technical Assistance

(a) General Information

Through the CTA Program, NRCS provides conservation technical assistance to individuals and groups of decision makers, communities, conservation districts and other units of State and local government, tribes, and other Federal agencies, to help them voluntarily conserve, maintain, and improve natural resources.

(b) Purpose

The purpose of conservation technical assistance is to help decision makers voluntarily conserve, maintain, and improve natural resources to ensure their sustained use and productivity, while considering the associated environmental and cultural resources and the client’s economic and social needs. NRCS helps decision makers with the conservation planning process ranging from site-specific for individuals to community, watershed, or area-wide plans for groups of land managers.

(c) Individuals, Groups, Tribes, and Units of Government

NRCS provides conservation technical assistance to individuals, entities, groups, tribes, units of government, and others who are responsible for making decisions and setting policies that influence land use, conservation treatment, and natural resource management. Conservation technical assistance furnished by NRCS includes conservation planning and practice/system application, technical consultations, and assistance in the technical phases of USDA and State cost-share programs. Individuals, groups, Tribes, and units of government requesting CTA Program assistance include, but are not limited to:

·         Farmers, ranchers, and other decision makers concerned with the conservation of the land and natural resources.

·         County and other local government units such as park authorities; departments of public works; planning, zoning, school and institution boards; universities; highway departments; and tax assessors.

·         Citizen groups, youth groups, recreation groups, and garden clubs.

·         State and local units of government (highway, health, recreation, water resources, and regional planning), and tribal governments involved in establishing public policy regarding the use of natural resources.

·         Federal departments and agencies such as Defense, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Health and Human Services, and Interior.

·         Professional consultants who provide engineering, planning, environmental assessment, tax assessment, and natural resource management services.

(d) Conservation Planning Assistance

NRCS, through the CTA Program, helps decision makers with the conservation planning process; working with clients ranging from individuals, communities, groups, and units of government.

Through the CTA Program, clients develop conservation plans that may serve as a basis for them to enter into financial assistance and easement conservation programs. More specifically, the CTA Program will be used to assist decision makers for conservation planning prior to the commitment or approval of a participant’s funding for financial assistance or easement conservation programs. State Conservationists and the Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas may use conservation plans as part of the qualification criteria for participating in financial assistance and easement conservation programs.

Conservation planning is a natural resource problem solving and management process. The process integrates economic, social, cultural, and ecological considerations to meet private and public needs. This approach, which emphasizes desired future conditions, helps improve natural resource management, minimize conflict, and address problems and opportunities. The success of conservation planning and implementation depends on the voluntary participation of clients. NRCS uses a nine-step conservation planning process, as follows:

·         Identify problems and opportunities;

·         Determine objectives;

·         Inventory resources;

·         Analyze resources data;

·         Formulate alternatives;

·         Evaluate alternatives;

·         Make decisions;

·         Implement the plan; and

·         Evaluate the plan.

Guidance for the nine steps of conservation planning is in the National Planning Procedures Handbook, Part 600.2. The Customer Service Toolkit is the official conservation planning software for NRCS. Agency conservationists will use this software to assist clients in the conservation planning process.

(e) Conservation Application Assistance

Conservation application assistance is provided to help decision makers apply and maintain planned conservation work. NRCS technical assistance for applying the plan includes:

·         Providing guidance for the onsite adjustments needed to implement the selected management alternatives and conservation practices needed to protect natural resources.

·         Designing and advising on the construction, operation, and maintenance of conservation practices.

·         Ensuring that practices applied meet NRCS conservation practice standards and specifications.

NRCS has established management control of conservation application assistance in the National Engineering Manual, Part 501.04, commonly referred to as engineering job approval. Employees will have training to qualify them for certain engineering job approvals for conservation practices/systems.

(f) Conservation Technical Consultation Assistance

Conservation technical consultation is technical assistance provided to individuals, groups, and units of government that does not lead to the development of a conservation plan. This technical consultation assistance includes:

·         Assistance in meetings to support locally led efforts.

·         Responses to requests for information or other technical products.

·         Resource inventories and evaluations that may lead to conservation practice recommendations.

·         Assistance provided when there is a single transaction involving a service or product.

·         Technical consultation and assistance in the distribution, interpretation, application, and use of soil survey.

(g) Conservation Follow-up Assistance

Follow-up assistance is needed to maintain contact with clients to help ensure their progress in implementing conservation plans. Conservationists need to assure that enough time is scheduled to provide cooperators with adequate technical assistance in applying planned conservation practices/systems and in keeping their conservation plans current. This may include updating objectives and decisions, keeping plans current with new technology and regulations, and determining the effects of implemented practices. The CTA Program also is available to assist clients with maintenance of conservation plans and practices/systems that resulted through expired or completed financial assistance contracts.

(h) Conservation Technical Assistance on Land Units that Cross Tribal Land, State, County, or Field Office Boundaries

NRCS technical assistance on an individual land unit that crosses tribal land, State, county, parish, or field office boundary is the responsibility of the field office where the headquarters for the land unit is located or as otherwise agreed upon by the customer and respective State Conservationists. For assistance to individuals, groups, or units of government on a land unit that crosses a State boundary, refer to the General Manual, Title 180, Part 409.4.

(i) Conservation Technical Assistance with International Impacts.

Assistance with international impacts will be in compliance with National Instruction 280-301, International Conservation Assistance. State Conservationists and Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas will provide instructions for affected field offices as appropriate.

[M_440_525_C_20 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.21 - Conservation Districts

525.21 Conservation Districts

NRCS, through the CTA Program, provides assistance to conservation districts within available resources. This conservation technical assistance includes providing resource inventory data and identifying conservation problems and needs in order for conservation districts to develop annual plans and a long-range conservation program to solve natural resource problems.

NRCS is invited to assist a conservation district through a formal request of an established conservation district board. The purpose for this arrangement is to assure that the locally led process is integrated with CTA Program’s national natural resource conservation objectives and priorities. As such, conservation districts are a vital, critically partner with the CTA Program.

Conservation technical assistance is provided on individual land units through conservation districts, including tribal conservation districts, based on Mutual, Cooperative Working, and Operational Agreements (General Manual, Title 180, Part 401). NRCS may enter into agreements with conservation districts and other organizations and units of government to provide conservation program assistance as mutually agreed upon. The State Conservationist or Directors of the Caribbean or Pacific Basin Areas will determine the level of NRCS conservation technical assistance to be provided in areas without conservation districts.

[M_440_525_C_21 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.22 - Conservation Technical Assistance to Federal Agencies

525.22 Conservation Technical Assistance to Federal Agencies

(a) General

Conservation technical assistance provided by NRCS to Federal agencies usually encompasses types for which NRCS has special expertise. Technical assistance to Federal agencies that will require a significant amount of NRCS resources will be based on an agreement that provides for reimbursement of NRCS services. The State Conservationist and Directors of the Caribbean or Pacific Basin Areas will determine when an agreement is required.

The types of services offered may include:

·         Providing conservation program information.

·         Providing FOTG information and expertise.

·         Providing natural resource information and related technical data.

·         Training on NRCS programs and conservation practice standards and specifications.

·         Conducting natural resource inventories, evaluations and studies.

·         Providing technical information in preparation of conservation project proposals.

·         Providing conservation planning, design and implementation assistance.

(b) Reimbursable Agreements

Substantive conservation technical assistance to Federal agencies will be based on an agreement that provides for reimbursement of NRCS services. The agreement should be developed in accordance with the Economy Act and also ensure that policies and guidelines of the agencies are met. Guidance for developing agreements is located in the NRCS Federal Grants and Cooperative Agreements Handbook, Part 600.

(c) Coordinated Resource Management (CRM)

States are encouraged to develop memorandums of understanding to implement the CRM process where there are mixed private, public, and/or tribal landownership and/or multiple natural resource uses.

Many States have established policy and general guidelines through a Memorandum of Understanding for CRM process implementation in collaboration with agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management; U.S. Forest Service, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service; National Park Service; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and American Indian tribal governments. Through the CRM process, these agencies coordinate resource planning, management, and education activities directed toward working with State and local agencies, private landowners, and others in developing and implementing sound resource management and conservation programs on Federal and non-federal lands.

[M_440_525_C_22 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.23 - Conservation Technical Assistance to Private Individuals on Federal Lands

525.23 Conservation Technical Assistance to Private Individuals on Federal Lands

Substantive CTA Program technical assistance can be provided to private individuals on Federal lands through agreement with the Federal agency including, but not limited to, the use of the CRM process through a memorandum of understanding.

[M_440_525_C_23 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.24 - Conservation Technical Assistance to Tribal, State and Local Governments

525.24 Conservation Technical Assistance to Tribal, State and Local Governments

NRCS provides technical assistance to tribal, State and local governments. This technical assistance is provided in accordance with memorandums of agreement, enabling legislation, and available resources. Refer to General Manual, Title 440, Part 401 for more information about providing assistance to Tribal, State and local governments.

NRCS will provide technical assistance to tribal, State, and local governments for programs mandated by Congress in the absence of a cooperative working agreement with the conservation district, or the absence of a conservation district.

NRCS has a "Trust" responsibility to deliver CTA Program assistance to tribes through a government-to-government relationship. Laws, policies, executive orders, and other directives require and/or authorize this government-to-government relationship. For example, executive memorandums direct Federal agencies to remove procedural impediments to working effectively with tribal governments in the delivery of programs and services, and to develop the best mechanism for delivering programs and services to tribes through the consultative process (See E.O. 13175 Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments (November 6, 2000), E.O. 13007 American Indian Sacred Sites (May 24, 1996), E.O. 12898 Environmental Justice in Minority Populations (1994), American Indian Religious Freedom Act).

Through the CTA Program, the State Conservationist will consult with federally recognized tribes to determine the optimum means of delivering NRCS programs and services. Every effort will be made by NRCS to fulfill its government-to-government relationships with federally recognized tribes.

[M_440_525_C_24 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.25 - Conservation Technical Assistance on a Larger Geographic Area

525.25 Conservation Technical Assistance on a Larger Geographic Area

(a) General

Through the CTA Program, NRCS provides collaborative community, watershed, and area-wide technical assistance to groups and units of government so they can develop and implement plans that conserve, maintain, and improve natural resources consistent with the Agency’s national conservation mission.

(b) Area-wide, Community, and Watershed Conservation Plans

Through the CTA Program, NRCS provides community, watershed, and area-wide conservation planning assistance to local, State, Federal and tribal governments. NRCS also may provide resource information for community, watershed, and area-wide planning efforts by others, including non-government consultants. These plans are developed with a client for a watershed or other geographic area defined by the client and stakeholders. This broad scale conservation plan addresses all resource problems identified, and contains alternative solutions that meet the minimum quality criteria identified in the FOTG for each natural resource, and meets the requirement of applicable laws and regulations.

All community, watershed, and area-wide conservation planning activities will include a public participation component to the extent determined by the State Conservationist. Public participation activities are to be consistent with the requirements of applicable Federal statutes, such as National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and implementing regulations for Section 106 of this Act, and Civil Rights requirements and State statutes. See the National Planning Procedures Handbook for guidance on developing community, watershed, and area-wide conservation plans.

(c) Comprehensive Plans with a Unit of Government

A comprehensive plan is developed for an area under the jurisdiction of a unit of government that may include, but is not limited to, policies, goals, and interrelated plans for private and public land use, transportation systems, community facilities, and capital improvements. The plan represents the decisions of local people as expressed through units of government. This type of plan also may be called a general plan, master plan, community plan, or a regional development plan.

NRCS may serve as a technical advisor for the development of these types of plans. NRCS primarily provides natural resource information and related technical data to the unit of government, or to a professional planner, who may use their own planning process.

The plan may result in changes in local ordinances or other actions that are implemented by the owners of land within the jurisdiction of the unit of government. An example would be a county plan for protection of open space in selected areas of the county. NRCS policy for compliance with the Farmland Protection Policy Act and Land Evaluation Site Assessment guidance is located in General Manual, Title 310, and Conservation Programs Manual, Part 523.

[M_440_525_C_25 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

Subpart D – Environmental Compliance, Resource Analysis, and Technology

525.30 - Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Compliance

Part 525 — Conservation Technical Assistance Program

Subpart D – Environmental Compliance and Analysis

525.30 Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation Compliance

(a) General

Through the CTA Program, NRCS assists agricultural producers to comply with the Highly Erodible Land (HEL) and Wetland (Swampbuster) Conservation Compliance Provisions of the l985 Food Security Act, as amended.

(b) Conservation Compliance

CTA Program funds will be used to assist agricultural producers to comply with the Highly Erodible Land (HEL) and Wetland (Swampbuster) Conservation Compliance Provisions of the l985 Food Security Act, as amended. (See NFSAM, Part 510). The objectives of these Conservation Compliance Provisions are to:

·         Reduce soil loss due to wind and water erosion.

·         Protect the Nation’s long-term capability to produce food and fiber.

·         Reduce sedimentation and improve water quality.

·         Assist in preserving the functions and values of the Nation’s wetlands.

For more information regarding Conservation Compliance, see the National Food Security Act Manual (NFSAM) for HEL and Wetland Conservation Compliance Provisions.

[M_440_525_D_30 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.31 - Compliance with Laws and Regulations

525.31 Compliance with Laws and Regulations

Through the CTA Program, NRCS assists decision makers into complying with Federal, State, tribal, and local environmental regulations and related requirements.

At a minimum, NRCS employees must have enough knowledge of Federal, State, tribal and local laws and regulations to:

·         Recognize that a contemplated facility or practice may be subject to such laws and regulations.

·         Provide the landowner or operator with the name and address of the agency or official from whom application forms and detailed information can be obtained.

In furnishing technical assistance for planning or implementing conservation practices that may be subject to the requirements of Federal, State, tribal, or local laws and regulations, it is NRCS policy to:

·         Inform the landowner or operator in writing or verbally that it is his or her responsibility to comply with applicable laws and regulations in implementing and using the practice. NRCS employees must file a copy of the written notice, or document the verbal notice, in the case file.

·         Design conservation practices/systems that meet landowner or operator needs, NRCS conservation practice standards and specifications, and the requirements of applicable laws and regulations. NRCS assistance with the development or acceptance of a conservation plan does not eliminate landowner or operator obligation to obtain needed permits or approvals under existing program or regulatory requirements administered or enforced by another Federal, State, tribal, or local agency.

·         Furnish the landowner or operator, on request, available information needed to obtain rights, permits, or approvals necessary to implement, operate, and maintain the practice. This includes surveys, maps, technical data, and construction plans and specifications prepared by NRCS employees during the development of the conservation plan or during the planning and design of conservation practices. This includes information for waste and water management plans.

·         Provide further technical assistance only after the land owner or operator obtains required rights, permits, or approvals necessary to implement, operate, maintain, and apply practices requiring rights or permits under water rights laws, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (P.L. 92-500), and dam safety laws or regulations, or other relevant ordinances. The State conservationist may include other items important in the State. (See General Manual, Title 450, Part 405).

·         Inform the landowner or producer of those Federal agency compliance responsibilities (essential Federal functions) that cannot be delegated and must be completed by NRCS prior to implementation of the assistance (including, but not limited to, Endangered Species Act consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Historic Preservation Act consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer).

[M_440_525_D_31 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.32 - Environmental and Cultural Resource Compliance

525.32 Environmental and Cultural Resource Compliance

In delivering the CTA Program, NRCS will provide science-based conservation and management assistance to clients that will assist in the protection of their ecological, cultural, social, and economic resources. NRCS also will facilitate landowner and decision maker protection of cultural resources, valuable wetlands, at-risk animal and plant species and their habitats, and designated ecosystems. In implementing the CTA Program, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and other Federal, State and local environmental and cultural resource protection policies, regulations, and executive orders will be incorporated into all steps and activities of the planning process and should not be considered as a separate process or requirement. NRCS policy for compliance with NEPA is located in General Manual, Title 190, Part 410 and the National Environmental Compliance Handbook, Title 190, Part 610. In accordance with the ESA, NHPA, and NEPA, all consultation and decision-making under these authorities must be completed by NRCS, not the landowner, operator, producer, or their TSP.

[M_440_525_D_32 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.33 - Collecting, Analyzing and Displaying Natural Resource Data

525.33 Collecting, Analyzing and Displaying Natural Resource Data

Through the CTA Program, NRCS conducts the National Resources Inventory (NRI), which collects, analyzes, interprets, displays, and disseminates information regarding the status, condition, and trend of soil, water, and related natural resources so that people can make informed decisions for natural resource use and management.

The NRI is a statistical survey of land use and natural resource conditions and trends on non-federal lands. It is the Federal Government's principal source of information on the status, condition, and trends of soil, water, and related resources in the United States on non-federal lands. As such, NRI is a critical input to policy decisions in the formulation of the National Conservation Program.

[M_440_525_D_33 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.34 - Conservation Effects

525.34 Conservation Effects

NRCS, through the CTA Program, determines effects of the implementation of conservation practices and systems through observed conditions of the natural and cultural resources. NRCS works with other agencies and universities to conduct assessments of environmental benefits and effects of conservation programs. These projects, on a watershed basis, study the benefits of most conservation practices and resource management systems implemented through conservation programs, including the CTA Program. These efforts provide the farming community, general public, legislators, regulatory agencies, and others with a scientific assessment of environmental benefits achieved through conservation programs. NRCS uses information derived from conservation effects studies to enhance and improve the overall effectiveness of conservation planning and application through the CTA Program.

[M_440_525_D_34 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.35 - Technology Development and Transfer

525.35 Technology Development and Transfer

The CTA Program supports development, transfer and maintenance of effective, science-based, historically proven technology and tools for use in NRCS’s planning and other technical assistance activities. Technologies in the areas of resource assessment, management, and measurement of effects and change in natural and cultural resource conditions are included in this responsibility.

CTA Program technology needs are supplied through the cooperation and collaboration of the Deputy Chiefs for Science and Technology, Soil Survey and Resource Assessment, and Strategic Planning and Accountability.

Technological areas supported by the CTA Program include, but are not limited to, the following:

·         Conservation Engineering;

·         Ecological Sciences;

·         Resource Economics;

·         Social Sciences;

·         Soil Science;

·         Remote Sensing;

·         Resource Inventory;

·         Performance Measurement; and

·         Information Management.

FOTGs are the primary scientific references for NRCS conservation technical assistance delivery and are available for use by other agencies and individuals. They contain technical information regarding the conservation of soil, water, air, related plant, animal, and human resources. Technical guides used in any NRCS office are localized so that they apply specifically to an identified geographic area. The policy for the FOTG is in General Manual, Title 450, Part 401.

The technologies are developed for use by the CTA Program and by other NRCS conservation programs. Specific technologies, processes, and procedures are found in electronic formats as well as in manuals, handbooks, and technical notes.

State Conservationists and the Directors of the Caribbean and Pacific Basin Areas may approve, in consultation with their State Technical Committee, the pilot testing of new technologies or innovative conservation practices (See Conservation Programs Manual paragraph 505.11(f).

[M_440_525_D_35 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

Subpart E – Program Management

525.40 - Fund Management

525.40  Fund Management

A.  General Information

The Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) Program (CO-01) is implemented with discretionary funds through Conservation Operations (CO) annual appropriations.

B.  Purpose

The purpose of fund management is to ensure that CTA Program funds are allocated, obligated, and spent in a timely and legally appropriate manner consistent with CTA Program National and State priorities and policies.

C.  Allocations

The Chief has discretion to develop CTA Program fund allocation methodology. Allocations will be developed for allowance holders.  Allowance holders include the Deputy Chief for Management, all State Conservationists, and Directors, Pacific Islands and Caribbean Areas.  The Chief is the only allottee.  The Chief will establish Agency priorities and ensure that Administration priorities are addressed in the budget formulation and allocation processes.

D.  Allowance Holders’ Responsibilities for Fund Integrity

Allowance holders are responsible for using allocated funds consistent with National and State priorities.  They are to use these resources effectively according to the requirements specified in the Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act (FMFIA) of 1982 and guard against waste and misuse.  Allowance holders responsibilities include:

(i)  Managing their operations within the amounts allocated;

(ii)  Assuring management or internal controls are in place;

(iii)  Evaluating the internal controls annually according to Office of Management and Budget guidelines;

(iv)  Ensuring the effective use of resources for the intended purpose;

(v)  Limiting obligations and expenditures to the amount available;

(vi)  Assuring timely and accurate reporting of the use of such resources; and

(vii)  Ensuring fund integrity.

E.  Fund Guidance

(1)  Obligations are controlled as to amount, time, and purpose.  NRCS has annual and no-year appropriations.  Historically, CTA Program funds have been a no-year appropriation, although Congress may change the no-year designation for CTA Program funds through the annual appropriation process.  No-year funds are available for obligation until they are fully expended for their intended purpose.

(2)  At the national level, budget execution lies with the Deputy Chief for Management. Budget execution in a State and Areas rests with the State Conservationist and Directors, Pacific Islands and Caribbean Areas.  The State Conservationist and Directors, Pacific Islands and Caribbean Areas are responsible for incurring obligations and making outlays.

(3)  Obligations are NRCS’ binding commitment to another party concerning goods and services to be provided, amounts to be paid, and other material elements of transaction.  Obligations must be supported by documents such as signed contracts, letters of credit, or personnel records.  Obligations may be made only during the period that funds are available.

(4)  Outlays occur when money is disbursed by check, electronic transfer, or cash. Outlays are a term used interchangeably with disbursements.

(5)  Allowance holders should make every effort to ensure that all the CTA Program funds are obligated by the end of the fiscal year (FY), in which they were appropriated.  CTA Program funds not obligated by an allowance holder by the end of a fiscal year will be returned to National Headquarters.  These funds are not automatically returned to the original allowance holder in the next FY.  Their use in the next FY will be determined by the Chief of NRCS.

F.  Agreements

(1)  Through formal agreements, NRCS can be reimbursed or can obtain special services that may enhance the effectiveness of the CTA Program.  These agreements will be consistent with the CTA Program purpose and objectives.  For guidance in the development of agreements, refer to Part 600 - NRCS Federal Grants and Cooperative Agreements Handbook.

(2)  The Economy Act is used to establish reimbursable agreements with other Federal agencies.  The Economy Act is a government-wide authority for reimbursement for goods and services provided to another Federal agency, when not otherwise specifically authorized by statute.  The Economy Act says that the assisting agency must recover full costs.  Congress intended to effect savings for the Government as a whole by:

(i)  Generally authorizing the performance of work or services or the furnishing of materials by an agency of the Government in a position to perform the work or service.

(ii)  Diminishing the reluctance of other Government agencies to accept such orders by removing the limitation upon reimbursements.

G.  Special Funding Activities

(1)  The NRCS has authority through the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, Public Law 74-46, to use CTA Program funds to:

(i)  Provide financial assistance to install conservation practices.

(ii)  Purchase land and equipment for conservation purposes.

(iii)  Construct buildings for conservation purposes.

(2)  These activities can be funded only when they meet the CTA Program purpose identified in 440-CPM, Part 525, Section 525.01(b), are in a Congressional Directive contained in legislation, and do not duplicate activities that could be carried out using other NRCS program authorities.  State Conservationists and the Directors, Pacific Islands and Caribbean Areas are encouraged to use existing financial assistance programs and other appropriate measures better designed for acquiring properties, equipment, and installing conservation practices.

H.  Pilot Projects and Conservation Field Trials

(1)  State Conservationists have the authority to transfer technologies through pilot projects and conservation field trials.  The use of CTA Program funds for these activities should be limited.

(2)  It is NRCS policy to identify needs and conduct field trials to strengthen NRCS technology when formal research is not needed or practical.  As appropriate, these trials will be conducted in cooperation with other agencies and organizations (See General Manual, Title 450, Part 403).

I.  Congressional Directives

(1)  Congress, through appropriations legislation, sometimes directs NRCS through its CTA Program, to assist with prescribed conservation activities or projects.  In other cases, Congress makes such direction through a non-statutory source, such as reports of committees of the Congress or other congressional documents, or through communications from or on behalf of Members of Congress.  However, based on Executive Order 13457, “Protecting American Taxpayers from Government Spending on Wasteful Earmarks,” directions that are not included in the text of the bills voted upon by the Congress and presented to the President, should not be carried out except when required by law or when the project, activity, or grant has merit under existing program criteria.  State Conservationists will carry out congressional directives contained in legislation only.

(2)  Many of the congressional directives require that NRCS enter into a grant or cooperative agreement in order to pass-through the funds to another entity.  The NRCS official responsible for carrying out the grant or cooperative agreement must ensure the deliverables in the agreement adhere to the purpose and objectives of the CTA Program, as outlined in 440-CPM, Part 525, Section 525.1 (b) & (d).  The official must also ensure that the deliverables are not activities that could be carried out using other NRCS program authorities.  In instances where the deliverables do not meet the intent of 440-CPM, Part 525, Section 525.1 (b) & (d) or in cases where the activities could be funded using another NRCS program, the responsible NRCS official should contact the Director, Conservation Planning and Technical Assistance Division for guidance.

(3)  NRCS is responsible for ensuring that the congressional directives are completed in a timely fashion and according to the intended purpose.  The NRCS responsible official must negotiate with the recipient/beneficiary regarding any NRCS technical assistance costs that may result from the directive itself.  Each congressional directive should lead to specific accomplishments and should be entered into the Agency performance reporting system, where applicable.

J.  Special Initiatives

The Chief may fund special initiatives through the CTA Program to focus resources on a specific program objective(s).  Each special initiative must lead to specific accomplishments, which are to be entered into the Agency performance reporting system where applicable.  State Conservationists will support the Chief’s national priorities and may establish additional State priorities or initiatives for the CTA Program.

[M_440_525_E_40 - Amendment 50 - June 2008]

525.41 - Accountability

525.41 Accountability

(a) General Information

Accountability information allows NRCS to fulfill the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act, to implement the President’s Management Agenda, and to develop strong budget requests that link budgets to performance. The Agency’s strategic plan articulates the fundamental mission, goals, and objectives for the Agency. It identifies specific Agency strategies and performance targets to achieve these goals. It is critical that the Agency account for annual performance as well as demonstrating adequate progress in achieving long-term performance goals for the CTA Program. The long-term goals of the program shall be outcome oriented, and designed to demonstrate the conservation accomplishments of CTA in improving and sustaining the Nation’s natural resources. Policy for strategic planning and accountability is in the General Manual, Title 340, Part 400. Long-term goals for the CTA Program are linked to annual performance measures and corresponding activities in the CTA Program Logic Model (See Conservation Programs Manual, Subpart F, Exhibits, Section 525.51).

(b) Purpose

The purpose of the accountability process is to ensure that the Agency uses appropriated and reimbursable funds in the CTA Program as efficiently as possible to provide high quality service in achieving Agency goals and objectives.

(c) Performance Planning and Management

Performance planning and measurement assist the Agency in linking the Agency mission, strategic plan goals, and tasks performed by Agency personnel on a day-to-day basis. The process converts CTA Program goals into measurable annual priorities and targets that guide the allocation of staff and financial resources within the CTA Program. Overall, performance planning and measurement within the CTA Program includes:

·         Planning objective, quantifiable, and measurable goals.

·         Providing performance documentation by maintaining complete and accurate case files and records.

·         Collecting activity-based information on how staff is spending their time.

·         Analyzing performance measurement data for accuracy.

·         Using the results of the performance measurement analysis to correct deficiencies, improve program efficiency, and provide for effective program management.

·         Providing program performance reports to agency management and leadership, the Department, oversight agencies, Congress, and other stakeholders.

(d) Integrated Accountability System

NRCS monitors the progress in completing annual and long-term measures for the CTA Program through the Agency’s Integrated Accountability System (IAS). The IAS is a set of data collection tools, processes and related applications that provide information in a timely manner to support strategic and performance planning, performance monitoring, budget formulation, business planning, operations management, workforce planning, and accountability activities. The IAS collects accountability data for the CTA Program at the county, State, regional, and national levels.

[M_440_525_E_41 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

Subpart F – Exhibits

525.50 - Forms (Reserved)

525.50 Forms (Reserved)

[M_440_525_F_50 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

525.51 - CTA Program Logic Model

525.51 CTA Program Logic Model

Conservation Technical Assistance Program
Logic Model

Program Specific Activities

Work Products

Annual Program Performance Measure

Long Term Performance Measures

Technical Consultations

 

Conservation Planning

 

Conservation Implementation

 

Wetlands Compliance

 

HEL Compliance

 

Technology Development

 

Technology Transfer

 

Watershed and Area-Wide Planning

 

Program Management & Support

·   Customers receiving brief technical consultations

·   I&E’s completed

·   Farmland conversion impact ratings

·   Permit consultations

·   Clients assisted

·   Conservation plans, individual

·   Number of conservation practices installed or implemented.

·   Wetland determinations made (no.)

·   Swampbuster Compliance Reviews

·   Highly Erodible Land determinations made

·   HEL Food Security Act Compliance Reviews

·   New standards developed (no.)

·   Standards revised (no.)

·   Software developed and released (no.)

·   Guides developed (no.)

·   Employees trained

·   External soil conservationists trained

·   Technical training courses conducted

·   Area or Watershed Assessments (number)

·   Area or Watershed Plans (number, acres)

·   New customers requesting NRCS conservation planning and application assistance, number

Produce xxxxxxxx conservation plans covering xxxxxxxx million acres of cropland.

 

Assist xxxxxxxx land users implement conservation practices to protect an additional xxxxxxxx acres that were previously unprotected from excessive erosion.

 

Reduce annual soil erosion by xxxxxxxx tons.

 

Annually, xxxxxxxxx million acres will remain in compliance with Highly Erodible Land provisions thereby reducing sediment production by xxxxxxxx million tons.

Soil: Of the 376 million acres of cropland, xxxxxxxxx acres have increasing soil quality and productivity as indicated by a positive Soil Conditioning Index. However,

xxxxxxxxxx acres have declining soil quality and productivity. By 2010, NRCS, through the CTA program, will assist land users so that an additional xxxxxxxxx cropland acres have increasing soil quality and productivity.

Reduce sediment production by an additional xxxxxxx tons.

 

Plan xxxxxxx (no) and apply xxxxxxx (no) Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans.

Water Quality: Of the 376 million acres of cropland, 30 percent have a high potential for loss of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus in the runoff from agricultural sources. Annually, as much as 1.9 billion tons of sediment, 13.6 million tons of nitrogen, and 0.4 million tons of phosphorus could be lost from farm fields. In addition, large amounts of sediment can potentially erode from lands under development. By 2010, NRCS, through the CTA program, will concentrate assistance to land users through the watersheds approach to reduce:

Potential sediment delivery by xxxx %, or xxxxxx tons

Potential nitrogen delivery by xxxx %, or xxxxxx tons

Potential phosphorus delivery by xxxx %, or xxxxxx tons.

Improve irrigation efficiency on xxxxxxx million acres.

 

Improve irrigation efficiency by xxxxxxx million acre feet.

 

Water Conservation: Of the xxxxxxx million acres of irrigated land in production, irrigation water systems and management on xxxxxxxx million acres could be substantially improved to make more efficient, timely use of irrigation water. By 2010, NRCS, through the CTA program, will assist land users to increase the efficiency of irrigation water usage for crop production based on crop consumptive use standards by xxxxxx acre feet on xxxxxx million acres of irrigated land.

Create, restore or enhance xxxxxxx acres of wetlands.

 

Annually, Swampbuster compliance reviews will help protect xxxxxxx million acres of existing agricultural wetlands from conversion.

Wetlands: There are 111 million acres of nonfederal wetlands in the 48 contiguous states. Currently there is an annual net gain in nonfederal wetlands of 26,000 acres. By 2010, NRCS, through the CTA program, will assist land users to create or restore an additional xxxxxxx acres of wetlands, and enhance xxxxxxx wetland acres so that there is a continuing positive net gain nationally of xxxxxxx acres in nonfederal wetlands.

Produce xxxxxxx conservation plans covering xxxxxxx million acres of grazing land.

 

Apply one or more conservation practices on xxxxxxx million acres of grazing lands to protect the resource base.

Grazing Lands: There are xxxxxxx million acres of nonfederal grazing lands in the 48 contiguous states. Of this, xxxxxxx million acres have a degrading vegetative condition. These conditions result in limitations for grazing and for wildlife, while aggravating other resource problems such as soil erosion and susceptibility to wild fire. By 2010, NRCS, through the CTA program, will assist land users to treat xxxxxxxx acres or

xxxxxxx percent of nonfederal grazing lands with practices that in the long term will maintain or improve the vegetative condition.

Treat xxxxxxx million acres of habitat on agricultural lands for which wildlife is the primary or secondary resource concern.

Wildlife: By 2010, NRCS will help land users restore or enhance xxxxxxx million acres of habitat on nonfederal lands for which wildlife is the primary or secondary resource concern.

Develop air management plans for xxxxxxx acres of agricultural land in air quality non-attainment areas.

Apply air management plans for xxxxxxx acres of agricultural land in air quality non-attainment areas.

Air Quality: There are xxxxxxx acres of agricultural land in air quality non-attainment areas, of which xxxxxxx acres currently have air management plans developed and applied. By 2010, NRCS, through the CTA program, will assist land users to develop and apply air management plans on an additional xxxxxxx acres or xxxxxxx % of agricultural acres in air quality non-attainment areas.

 

Develop xxxxxxx watershed or area-wide conservation plans for water or air quality, covering xxxxxxx million acres.

 

Develop xxxxxxx watershed or area-wide resource plans, studies or inventories for flood prevention or mitigation.

 

Develop xxxxxxx watershed or area-wide resource plans, studies or inventories for water conservation or water supply.

Watershed Plans: To sustain and improve their soil, water and related natural resources, local, state, federal and tribal governments have developed watershed or area-wide conservation plans that cover xxxxxxx % of the nation’s acreage. NRCS will assist local, state, federal and tribal governments to develop and implement watershed or area-wide conservation plans on an additional xxxxxxx million acres which include specific, measurable conservation goals and milestones for conservation of soil, water and related natural resources.

Percent of new NRCS technology which achieves:

·   Stated design expectations for performance

·   The long term NRCS performance measures

·   Delivered on time as scheduled

·   Delivered within budget

Percent of soil and water conservationists receiving technical training who report that the technical materials provided are highly likely to:

·   Be implemented.

·    Positively impact soil, water, and related resources.

 

 

[M_440_525_F_51 - Amendment 15 - September 2006]

Subpart G – Glossary