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NRCS Answers Complaint About Using Ducks Unlimited Staff

North Dakota NRCS says three DU biologists are helping out with programs like CRP and EQIP, not wetland determinations or wetland compliance.

Mary Podoll, state conservation for the natural Resources Conservation Service in North Dakota, says it’s true that Ducks Unlimited personnel are working for the NRCS. Three biologists, who are getting half their salary from DU, are on staff.

But they are only doing conservation planning for farmers who have voluntary enrolled in programs such as CRP and EQIP.

They are not working on wetland compliance or wetland determinations, she says.

The North Dakota Grain Growers Association recently complained that DU staff shouldn't be working at the NRCS. See http://farmprogress.com/blogs-ducks-unlimited-staffers-nrcs-8962.

“NDGGA strongly disapproves of the United States Government, through the National Resources Conservation Service, using Ducks Unlimited personnel as foot soldiers for its work due to their bias toward their own agenda, oftentimes at the hands of the North Dakota farmers …,” the NDGGA said in a statement.

“The interest by agriculture producers in North Dakota for voluntary programs is significant,” Podoll says. “Over the past five years North Dakota producers utilized $90 million through these conservation programs.  USDA-NRCS in North Dakota has an agreement with Ducks Unlimited to provide assistance in the delivery of voluntary, incentive base programs on agricultural lands.

“Agreements with a variety of partners adds to the technical capacity of NRCS to deliver conservation planning and financial assistance programs such as CRP and EQIP. Agreements are generally a 50-50 financial arrangement that builds NRCS technical capacity and allows federal dollars to go further for voluntary agricultural programs. “

The following are questions and answers from NRCS its DU staff:

Q – How does the number of [of DU biologist employed] compare to total field staff in NRCS offices?

A – NRCS has approximately 200 people working at the field office level.

Q – What work does the DU personnel handle for NRCS?

A – The agreement spells out specific deliverables, focused on the delivery of technical assistance to producers who are participating in CRP, both the general and the continuous sign-up options, as well as EQIP.  The three staff added by this agreement assists agriculture producers understand the financial program opportunities, provide conservation planning assistance such as development of grass seeding mixes for pasture planting and provide guidance to applying all types of conservation practices.

Q – Do the DU personnel assist with any Wetland Compliance workload?

A - NO wetland compliance tasks are conducted by DU staff.  All wetland compliance activities are completed by NRCS.  Contribution agreements are never utilized for compliance tasks.

Q – Who pays for the staff?

A – 50% of the cost is paid by NRCS and 50% by DU.

Q – Does someone oversee their work?

A - Daily supervision and oversight is provided by NRCS staff.  DU staff is required to follow NRCS policy and procedures, meeting all NRCS technical standards.  They also have the same training opportunities as NRCS staff.   The partnership staff requires the same oversight as NRCS employees; as they gain job approval authority through training and experience, they can work independently in the field.  Any work done on behalf of NRCS receives evaluation through our quality assurance process.

Q – How does this agreement benefit NRCS?

A - This agreement allows NRCS to leverage funding to support CRP and EQIP implementation. Every dollar of federal funding for technical assistance work is match by a dollar of DU funds.  This help NRCS meet the large demand for conservation planning and project implementation.

Q – How large is this demand for conservation assistance?

A – NRCS assists 4,000 producers each year.  Over the past five years ND producers have implemented over $90M worth of projects just under our EQIP program.  Each year NRCS has a back log of over $30M in requests for EQIP projects.

Q – Does NRCS have other similar agreements with partner groups?

A – Yes, NRCS has similar agreements with other public and private organizations and individuals.  For example, 35 agreements with Soil Conservation Districts provide technical assistance to producers throughout the state.

Q – If the extra help from partners is not targeted to the compliance workload, what are you doing to address that issue?

A – NRCS in North Dakota created a team of NRCS employees to address compliance.  This team is supervised independently from the field office where work on voluntary programs is implemented.  During the field season, a contract staff of 5 assists in data collection for wetland compliance.  This data is utilized by the team to finalize the wetland determination.  ND has engaged the USDA- NRCS Remote Sensing Lab for expertise and tools for expediting determinations.  The Soil Survey Division and National Technology Support Centers provide additional “boots” on the ground to address this workload.

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