Several conservation challenges were highlighted during a House Agricultural Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry. Testimony centered around the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and how conditions of COVID-19 have been affecting operations. The hearing, Challenges and Successes of Conservation Programs in 2020, detailed how conservation efforts are faring amidst the pandemic.
“This has been an unprecedented year with external influences applying unusual pressures on our staff and adjusting, to some degree, the way we operate at the field level,” NRCS Acting Chief Kevin Norton said during his testimony. “It is noteworthy during this challenging year that we did complete 115,000 conservation plans with producers. We installed conservation measures on over one million acres.”
NRCS worked around the challenges created by coronavirus to move forward with conservation efforts as best as possible. Norton noted that NRCS is still having trouble filling staff vacancies despite making some headway on that effort. Field staff have continued to provide services to producers. Building closures and travel restrictions have been difficult to navigate in some instances. Many of the conservation challenges were logistical in nature. Norton indicated that the agency had been successful overall in working to provide assistance to producers.
Similar conservation challenges were raised by President of the National Association of Conservation Districts Tim Palmer, who was another witness that testified before the subcommittee. In his written testimony Palmer emphasized the value of local, technical assistance in addressing conservation challenges. Staffing issues within NRCS makes it difficult to fully maximize the opportunity provided through technical conservation assistance.
“You cannot simply cut a check and say ‘go forth and do good;’ landowners need the technical expertise to implement these conservation systems,” said Palmer. “Often, landowners need the technical assistance as much as or more than the financial assistance provided by farm bill conservation programs.”