Partners in Restoration
Natural Resource Conservation Service Conservation Practices
The work authorized under PIR revolves around NRCS conservation practices, also known as best management practices (BMPs) or management measures. These practices, when applied in the appropriate setting, help landowners and land managers improve the productivity of their operations and protect and improve the natural function of adjacent and nearby natural areas. These practices are selected from the NRCS' California Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG). They mirror the BMPs promoted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help meet Clean Water Act mandates and the BMPs included in Management Measures promoted by the California Coastal Commission and the State Water Resources Control Board in the Plan for California's Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program.
Placing Additional Conditions on the Conservation Practices
Because PIR does not identify specific sites and projects in advance, regulators require additional conditions and specifications that ensure the protection of sensitive species, habitat, and water quality. These conditions are different for each watershed depending on the conservation practices, presence of species, and specific natural resources found in the area. Typically, they limit the window when projects may be implemented in order to avoid breeding and nesting seasons, requiring erosion control practices, and measures to identify and avoid endangered species.
Negotiating these conditions is a critical element of PIR. The project manager must truly understand agency regulation, research existing permits to understand conditions normally applied, and involve the NRCS and RCD in the review and negotiations of the conditions to ensure the restrictions don't inadvertently exclude the activity for which permission is being sought.
The NRCS Conservation Planning Process
The NRCS plans rigorously before offering recommendations to cooperators. As a federal agency, the NRCS must ensure project works comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. They are required to conduct an Environmental Evaluation for potential projects according to the NRCS-NEPA rules (7CFR 650), which became effective in 1979 and were updated by California Amendment CA4 in 2000. This rule prescribes the assessment procedures under which NRCS-assisted actions are to be implemented. The procedures insure that environmental consequences are considered in decision-making and allow NRCS to assist individuals and non-federal public entities to take actions that protect, enhance, and restore environmental quality.
The NRCS nine-step conservation planning process is used to customize a management plan unique to the conditions of a local property and its manager. Each conservation plan describes the selected management system, is prepared for the customer, and includes a NEPA compliant Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW).
During the NRCS planning process, the EAW is used to document potential impacts of the preferred alternative. The EAW documents short term, long term, and cumulative effects of the proposed actions as well as the on-site and off-site impacts. This document is then placed in the project case file.
If a project is expected to generate significant adverse environmental impacts, the land user is encouraged to consider alternative actions, or may be directed to prepare a project specific Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). NRCS field office staff discourages projects that require an EIS. Typically, for small conservation projects, the assessment indicates that there are no significant adverse impacts or that long-term beneficial impacts outweigh short-term adverse impacts, and the conservation planner is directed to proceed with the plan of work.