NRCS helps landowners and communities conserve, maintain and improve the state’s natural resources and environment. NRCS coordinates with its partners through the State Technical Committee. The State Technical Committee is comprised of individuals who represent a variety of natural resource sciences and occupations, including soil, water, plants, wetlands and wildlife. NRCS employees provide information and technical assistance to private landowners and land users. In addition, NRCS provides financial assistance to landowners to implement conservation measures through the following programs authorized in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, also known as the 2002 Farm Bill.
Conservation Security Program (CSP). CSP is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to producers who advance the conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, plant and animal life, and other conservation purposes on private working lands. Such lands include cropland, grassland, prairie land, improved pasture, and range land as well as forested land and other non-cropped areas that are an incidental part of the agriculture operation. NRCS annually selects priority watersheds where the CSP program is targeted. For example, NRCS selected the Cadron, Lower Neosho, Lower St. Francis and Lower White-Bayou Des Arc watersheds for focus in FY2005.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). EQIP offers financial and technical help to assist eligible participants install or implement structural and management practices on eligible agricultural land. Persons engaged in livestock or agricultural production on eligible land may participate in the EQIP program. EQIP activities are carried out according to a plan of operations developed in conjunction with the producer that identifies the appropriate conservation practice or practices to address the resource concerns. The practices are subject to NRCS technical standards adapted for local conditions. EQIP offers contracts with a minimum term that ends one year after the implementation of the last scheduled practices and a maximum term of ten years. These contracts provide incentive payments and cost-shares to implement conservation practices. EQIP may cost-share up to 75% of the costs of certain conservation practices. Incentive payments may be provided for up to three years to encourage producers to carry out management practices they may not otherwise use without the incentive. However, limited resource producers may be eligible for cost-shares up to 90%. Farmers and ranchers may elect to use a certified third-party provider for technical assistance. In FY2003, Arkansas allocated approximately $11 million for 570 EQIP projects while eligible producers requested $76 million.
Wetlands Reserve Project (WRP) is a voluntary program that provides incentives to landowners to restore, protect or enhance the functions of wetland ecosystems. In Arkansas, the program focuses on restoring bottomland hardwood forest ecosystems and restoring water quality in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, Arkansas River Valley and Red River Valley through reforestation and hydrology restoration. Arkansas is currently ranked second in the nation in enrolled Wetlands Reserve Program acres. The program annually results in reforestation of 8,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods and restoration of hydrology on more than 6,000 acres.
The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Program (PL 83-566) objective is for NRCS to cooperate with state and local agencies to carry out works of improvement for soil conservation and for other purposes, including flood prevention; conservation, development, utilization and disposal of water; and conservation and proper utilization of the land. NRCS implements the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act through two program areas: Watershed Survey and Planning, and Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations. NRCS in Arkansas has approximately 63 watershed projects either completed or actively being implemented and has completed 14 river basin surveys.
Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program is to undertake emergency measures, including the purchase of flood plain easements (see next item), for runoff retardation and soil erosion prevention to safeguard lives and property from floods, drought and the products of erosion on any watershed whenever fire, flood or any other natural occurrence is causing or has caused a sudden impairment of the watershed. EWP provides funding to project sponsors for work such as clearing debris from clogged waterways, restoring vegetation, and stabilizing river banks. The measures that are taken must be environmentally and economically sound and generally benefit more than one property owner. NRCS provides up to 75% of the funds needed to restore the natural function of a watershed. The community or local sponsor of the work pays the remaining 25%, which can be provided by cash or in-kind services. The joint efforts of NRCS, the Clark County Conservation District, Arkansas Forestry Commission, provided land users in Arkansas with technical and financial assistance to establish or refurbish firebreaks damaged by ice storms.
The Emergency Watershed Protection-Floodplain Easement Program goal is to reduce the recurring cost of flood damage in areas prone to flooding while restoring or protecting fish and wildlife habitat, especially wetland habitat. The program will accomplish this goal by acquiring perpetual easements from interested landowners and, where necessary, restoring the hydrology and vegetation of the floodplain. NRCS has designated the following rivers or watersheds as priority areas in Arkansas in order to maximize environmental benefits: L’Anguille River and Departee Creek Watersheds, Bayou Bartholomew, St. Francis River/Little River Floodway and Mississippi River, White River, Black River and Buffalo River. L’ Anguille, Bayou Bart, and the Upper White River watersheds are priorities for the 2006-2010 NPS Management Program.
Nonpoint Source Project. NRCS is providing technical and financial assistance in Arkansas through the Buffalo River Tributaries Land Treatment Watershed Project.
Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) is a voluntary program that offers landowners easements, long-term rental agreements or restoration agreements to protect, restore and enhance grasslands, including grassland, rangeland, pastureland, shrubland and certain other lands. The program is jointly administered by NRCS, FSA and U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The program will conserve vulnerable grasslands from conversion to cropland or other uses and conserve valuable grasslands by helping maintain viable ranching operations. The first GRP sign-up period in Arkansas ended in late 2004.
Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI). Funded in 2003, this program provides technical and educational assistance to owners of private grazing lands to improve management. In its first year, the program conducted more than 25 workshops, field days and presentations for more than 600 farmers and purchased 11 easements. The program is not a cost share program. The Arkansas Grazing Lands Advisory Committee provides oversight and the Cooperative Extension Service and NRCS carry out the program.
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP) is a voluntary program that provides cost-share to implement practices that improve habitat for game and non-game species. NRCS and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission biologists work with the applicant to conduct a sound habitat evaluation of the proposed area, carefully prioritize the habitat needs, and meet those needs by planning and timely installation of the appropriate management practices.
Resource Conservation and Development Councils (RC&Ds) are independent regional nonprofit organizations staffed with NRCS employees and partially funded by NRCS. RC&Ds improve the capability of state and local units of government in rural areas to plan, develop and carry out resource conservation and development projects designed to meet unique needs of rural communities. The councils often convene wide-ranging partners and develop resources to implement important projects that otherwise might not be undertaken. For example, one RC&D was instrumental in the creation of the Lower Little River Watershed Coalition while another RC&D pulled together a partnership to implement an extensive education program for private non-industrial landowners in an area of the state where BMP compliance was less than desirable.
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