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Conservation Corner

Forest Landowners eligible for CSP program

Sun, January 09, 2011

NRCS leaders hope new guidelines will attract more forest landowners to program

When Slade Lail purchased 360 acres of land in Hancock County, Ga., two hours outside of Atlanta, all he had in mind for the property were the recreational uses he and his family might take advantage of. He didn’t give working the land much thought.

But in time the dentist decided to build a Forest Stewardship Plan and soon after discovered the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). That was five years ago. Today, Lail is part of a new wave of CSP landowners – those who re-enrolled under the new rules and payment system created through the 2008 Farm Bill – and he couldn’t be happier to be part of it.

CSP addresses seven resource concerns (soil quality, soil erosion, water quality, water quantity, air quality, plant resources, and animal resources) as well as energy. The program encourages the adoption of conservation activities addressing climate change. Eligible land includes cropland, pastureland, rangeland, and nonindustrial forestland.

Under the new program, Lail was asked to complete a resource inventory of all the forestry and wildlife activities, or enhancements, that he currently addresses on his property. He was also asked to select new activities he is willing to adopt. Available conservation activities include but are not limited to: prescribed burning, proper forest thinning, wildlife opening maintenance, woods roads maintenance, riparian preservation, maintaining wildlife hardwood tree plantings, controlling invasive species, maintaining aquatic wetland habitat for biodiversity, and special site mountain longleaf demonstration plantings. CSP also allows prospective candidates to choose an enhancement bundle which is a group of specific enhancements that when installed as a group, addresses resource concerns as a whole.

The program can also help provide landowners with technical assistance and offers a schedule for all of their enhancement work. “It’s helped give me guidance, that’s the biggest thing,” says Lail.

CSP now requires all landowners to meet one resource concern at the time of enrollment. In addition, under CSP’s new guidelines, landowners need to meet or agree to meet a second resource concern by the end of the five-year contract. Lail plans to introduce more native vegetation to his land in the coming years.

NRCS is making a push to reach out to more forest landowners like Lail. Forestry has a bigger place in CSP than ever before, and NRCS is able to award contracts to 10 percent of the 12.7 million acres enrolled annually to nonindustrial private forest landowners. After two signup periods NRCS was close to reaching that total; the deadline for submitting applications to be considered in the third ranking and evaluation period (FY2011) is January 21, 2011.

“We definitely want to work with forest landowners. We realize it is an important part of our ecosystem,” says Irma Hernandez, CSP program specialist for NRCS. But Hernandez admits, “They are not our traditional customers, so we really need the help of our partners to inform forest landowners that CSP is there for them to use, too.”

This is where conservation districts enter the picture. Hernandez views districts as an important ally in helping to spread the word. In the old program, CSP was available in all 50 states but enrollment was determined on a watershed basis. The new program is available in all 50 states, as well, but it offers a continuous sign up with announced ranking periods. Forestland was not an eligible land use in the old program but it is under the new program. The new program offers more enhancements for forestry and ranks forestry applications in a separate pool from other land uses. But much of this information has yet to be relayed to the potential applicants.

“Conservation Districts are strong partners that can help NRCS promote and deliver the program,” says Hernandez. “They can assist our field employees and potential applicants on promoting and conducting outreach to ensure that forest landowners are aware of the opportunities available to them. The program offers financial and technical assistance to help them address resource concerns on their land.”

CSP is no longer a traditional cost-share program, but Hernandez sells this as one of its many positive points. Those enrolled will now be compensated based on conservation performance, generated both by the relative environmental benefits from conservation activities the landowner is already engaged in and the new conservation activities that they are willing to adopt during the contract period. And landowners will be ranked higher if they are addressing resource concerns identified by their respective state as being a resource concern of importance.

Says Hernandez, “CSP provides opportunities to both recognize excellent stewards and deliver valuable new conservation – that’s kind of become our slogan.”

When forestry landowners and producers first apply, they are asked to complete a self-screening checklist to determine if CSP is the right program for them. In addition, potential applicants can review the list of enhancements available through the program and the resource inventory questions which are available on the NRCS home page at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/new_csp/csp.html Each .application is then evaluated and ranked by a conservation measurement tool NRCS uses to determine eligibility, ranking score, and annual payments. A list of new enhancements and bundles is expected to be released by NRCS in early December.

Lail appreciates that CSP recognizes him for being an active steward. And the payments allow for more opportunities to share time with his children on his property. “This has been a tremendous learning tool for them and their friends,” says Lail, who invited a local boy scout troop to witness a prescribed burn. “And that’s added motivation for me to continue to do these things on my property.”

For more information on the Conservation Stewardship Program, visit

Adapted from NACD Forestry Notes December 2010 Volume XX Issue 1