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Competency Area 9: Conservation Planning AEM

PO 85. Explain how policies, procedures, technical guidance, and programs at the federal, state and local level fit together in the planning process. Understand the key elements of the planning process.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA. Pub. L. 91-190, 42 U.S.C. 4321-4347, January 1, 1970, as amended by Pub. L. 94-52, July 3, 1975, Pub. L. 94-83, August 9, 1975, and Pub. L. 97-258, § 4(b), Sept. 13, 1982) requires agencies of the Federal Government to "… utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decision making which may have an impact on man's environment . . ."

The United States Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) developed the 9-Step Conservation Planning Process that enables the agency to meet this NEPA regulation while assisting Tribal governments, farmers, ranchers, and other landowner in the decision making process. The planning process thus establishes a framework in the spirit of NEPA for planning and applying conservation practices/systems which will " . . .encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between [people and their environment] . . . " (NEPA 1969).

As presented in NRCS policy, the objective of conservation planning is to help each client attain sustainable use and sound management (prevent degradation) of soil, water, air, plant, and animal (SWAPA) resources while also including consideration and strategies in meeting human, social, and economic needs (SWAPA+H). The NRCS-National Planning Procedures Handbook (NPPH) provides procedures and guidance on implementing the conservation planning policy. The NRCS-Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG) is the primary technical reference for the agency. It is composed of five sections which contain either directly or by reference technical information about the SWAPA resources as discussed above.

In New York State, the State Soil and Water Conservation Committee developed the "Agriculture Environmental Management System" (AEM). AEM is a voluntary, incentive-based program that helps farmers make common-sense, cost-effective and science-based decisions to help meet business objectives while protecting and conserving the State's natural resources. Farmers work with local AEM resource professionals to develop comprehensive farm plans using a tiered process. The tiered process provides a complimentary series of actions to the NRCS planning process, providing mission critical information to planners and landowners regarding existing farm and natural resource conditions.

This combined NRCS-AEM process in New York provides a synergistic approach to ascertain federal and state programs appropriate to address on-farm concerns, and to leverage federal and state programs to provide technical and financial assistance to farmers developing and implementing conservation plans. (AEM, 2008). Thus, the NRCS-AEM strategy is designed to facilitate the development of comprehensive tactical plans based upon the inputs and outputs of the planning process, helping to identify and systematically treat the resource concerns and opportunities on the farm.