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Federal Roles and Responsibilities

For a complete review of NRCS’ roles and responsibilities, visit the NRCS website.


Perhaps no event did more to emphasize the severity of the erosion crisis in the popular imagination than the Dust Bowl. Beginning in 1932, persistent drought conditions on the Great Plains caused widespread crop failures and exposed the region’s soil to blowing wind. A large dust storm on May 11, 1934 swept fine soil particles over Washington, D.C. and three hundred miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. More intense and frequent storms swept the Plains in 1935. On March 6 and again on March 21, dust clouds passed over Washington and darkened the sky just as Congress commenced hearings on a proposed soil conservation law. Bennett seized the opportunity to explain the cause of the storms and to offer a solution – the creation of a permanent soil conservation agency. The result was the Soil Conservation Act (PL 74-46), which President Roosevelt signed on April 27, 1935, creating the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), recognizing that “the wastage of soil and moisture resources on farm, grazing, and forest lands . . .  is a menace to the national welfare”. As early as 1935 USDA managers began to search for ways to extend conservation assistance to more farmers. They believed the solution was to establish democratically organized Soil Conservation Districts to lead the conservation planning effort at the local level. To create a framework for cooperation, USDA drafted the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Law, which President Roosevelt sent to the Governors of all the states in 1937. The Idaho Legislature established the State Soil Conservation Commission in 1939 to assist with the formation of local Soil Conservation Districts. Now there are 50 around the state, many of which are co-located with Commission and NRCS field staff.


In 1994, Congress initiated a major reorganization of the USDA and renamed SCS the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to better reflect the broad scope of the agency’s mission. These changes marked the beginning of two major trends that have defined NRCS’ role in conservation since. The first is NRCS’s growing responsibility for administering financial assistance for conservation programs. The other increases many times over in the amount of financial assistance available for conservation. The result over the last two decades has been a proliferation of innovation programs that give conservationists and landowners the necessary means to protect our nation’s natural resources. Through one-on-one, personalized advice, NRCS works voluntarily with producers and communities to find the best solutions to meet their unique conservation and business goals. By doing so, they help ensure the health of our natural resources and the long-term sustainability of American agriculture.

The NRCS supports America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, helping people make investments in their operations and local communities to keep working lands working, boost rural economies, increase the competitiveness of American agriculture, and improve the quality of our air, water, soil and habitat. NRCS provides financial assistance through Farm Bill conservation programs, Landscape Conservation Initiatives, solutions for small-scale farms, and providing resources for small farms. It generates, manages, and shares the data, technology, and standards that enable partners and policymakers to make decisions informed by objective, reliable science. It also provides technical expertise and conservation planning  and NRCS provides incentives to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners wanting to put wetlands, agricultural land, grasslands and forests under long-term easements.

In FY 2021, the NRCS signed an MOU with the Commission and  the majority of Idaho Conservation Districts (relative only to the implementation of USDA Farm Bill programs) agreeing to:

  • Support outreach activities and ensure the Commission and Districts are kept informed of NRCS activities and programs on at least a monthly basis. This includes bringing technical and financial assistance opportunities (including matching fund strategies) to the attention of the Conservation Districts.
  • Work cooperatively to solicit and leverage community recommendations to inform priorities that guide the delivery of NRCS conservation programs.
    • Designate an NRCS representative to participate in the development of District Long-Range (Five-Year) and Annual Work Plans.
    • Designate an NRCS representative to participate in Conservation District meetings and events, including local working group meetings. Alternatively, NRCS will chair the local working group should the Conservation District be unable or unwilling to.
    • Develop and transmit written notifications to the local working group members as to the decisions made in response to their recommendations within 90 days.
  • Respond to requests from the parties for technical guidance and assistance.
  • Partner with local and Tribal agricultural, conservation, agency, and community groups where possible, to further Conservation District natural resource conservation goals and objectives.
  • Attempt to align program priorities within the Conservation District with the natural resource concerns identified by the local working group.
  • Provide an annual summary of NRCS accomplishments to the parties.
  • Develop, update, and disseminate technical standards, policies, and procedures.
  • Seek input and comment from communities on natural resource conservation policies and issues.
  • Inform the Conservation District and communities when pending statutes, laws, regulations, policies, or procedures may have a significant impact on the community.
  • Develop and provide access to USDA technologies and applications to facilitate shared standards, as appropriate.
  • Provide job approval authority for non-NRCS employees, in accordance with NRCS policy and Federal, State, and local laws, regulations and codes.
  • Provide conservation planning certifications for non-NRCS employees in accordance with the NRCS policy and Federal, State, and local laws, regulations and codes
  • Create and promote opportunities for the Conservation District board members and staff to participate in policy, program, and project development.
  • Provide technical or other training for conservation partnership employees in conjunction with its own training, or as separate events. Training must be consistent with and support of NRCS’s mission objectives. As such, the principle emphasis will be on the support and delivery of field-based conservation technical assistance.
  • Avoid disclosure of information about planning, financial, technical, and other assistance provided to landowners under the Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552) and only use such information to assist in providing such assistance.
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