Assessment of USDA‐NRCS rangeland conservation programs: recommendation for an evidence‐based conservation platform
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The Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) was created in response to a request from the Office of Management and Budget that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resource Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) document the societal benefits anticipated to accrue from a major increase in conservation funding authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill. A comprehensive evaluation of the efficacy of rangeland conservation practices cost-shared with private landowners was unable to evaluate conservation benefits because outcomes were seldom documented. Four interrelated suppositions are presented to examine the causes underlying minimal documentation of conservations outcomes. These suppositions are (1) the benefits of conservation practices are considered a certainty so that documentation in not required, (2) there is minimal knowledge exchange between the USDA-NRCS and research organizations, (3) and a paucity of conservation-relevant science, as well as (4) inadequate technical support for land owners following implementation of conservation practices. We then follow with recommendations to overcome potential barriers to documentation of conservation outcomes identified for each supposition. Collectively, this assessment indicates that the existing conservation practice standards are insufficient to effectively administer large conservation investments on rangelands and that modification of these standards alone will not achieve the goals explicitly stated by CEAP. We recommend that USDA-NRCS modify its conservation programs around a more comprehensive and integrative platform that is capable of implementing evidence-based conservation. Collaborative monitoring organized around landowner-agency-scientist partnerships would represent the focal point of a Conservation Program Assessment Network (CPAN). The primary network objective would be to establish missing information feedback loops between conservation practices and their agricultural and environmental outcomes to promote learning, adaptive management, and innovation. Network information would be archived and made available to guide other, related conservation programs in relevant ecoregions. Restructuring conservation programs as we recommend would (1) provide site specific information, learning, and accountability that has been requested by CEAP and (2) further advance balanced delivery of agricultural production and environmental quality goals.
author list (cited authors)
Briske, D. D., Bestelmeyer, B. T., Brown, J. R., Brunson, M. W., Thurow, T. L., & Tanaka, J. A.