Dec 08, 2015
Wildfire Mitigation and Assistance through USDA-NRCS
Author: Bill Brash, New Jersey Fire Safety Council
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a USDA agency that works with private landowners and others to provide technical and financial assistance for conservation practices that include forestry activities. NRCS is a federal agency that works with landowners in all 50 states, as well as US protectorates like Guam and Puerto Rico.
NRCS has been assisting farmers (they call them producers) with natural resource planning and cost-share funding to improve the water, land, plants, air and animals for more than 75 years. They can provide planning and conservation payments for practices that reduce wildfire risk like thinning, fuel break construction and prescribed burning. Who knew?
NRCS has a number of financial assistance programs, but only one, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), provides assistance for forestry related resource concerns.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offers conservation practices for agricultural producers with existing resource concerns to install permanent measures, adopt new management strategies, or develop activity plans for a wide range of resource concerns.
NRCS programs are nationwide, but each state office has the flexibility to adjust their programs to meet resource concerns unique to their state and within that state’s regional concerns. All NRCS national and state websites share the same basic format, so once you familiarize yourself with the national site, the state sites are very similar, with information in the same location with slight changes in content and priorities.
What kind of assistance is available?
Every state may be a little different, depending on resource concerns and needs, but in New Jersey EQIP forestry practices that reduce wildfire risk are encouraged and potentially eligible for funding. If you are interested in opportunities in your state, access your state’s NRCS website and look to see what practices they fund. It’s easy: Navigate to your state’s NRCS main page. Then click the “Programs” button to learn what programs and financial assistance are offered in your state. You can also find application information there. On the New Jersey NRCS site, the “related document” box contains the 2016 Practice Catalog. This document lists the practices that are eligible for cost-share assistance in your state and what NRCS will pay in assistance for each practice. Seriously, does it get any easier than this?
NRCS requires a Forest Management Plan (FMP) to be written for the property prior to a landowner or producer becoming eligible for financial assistance to implement practices. The good news is that NRCS will cover part of the cost for plan preparation. The rates for New Jersey are shown below.
Once the plan is written and approved, the wildfire mitigation practices included in the plan are eligible for NRCS conservation payments. In New Jersey, the following practices are eligible for conservation payments:
- Forest Stand Improvement – Practice 666, (thinning)
- Brush Management – Practice 314, (mowing)
- Fuel Break Establishment – Practice 383
- Prescribed burning – Practice 338
Cost-share assistance requests for forest management practices that reduce wildfire risk are ranked according to statewide priorities every year. Once ranked, NRCS will cost-share on the highest ranked projects until the funding is exhausted. Projects that do not receive funding in any given year are eligible for funding the following year.
NRCS has traditionally worked with private landowners, and public landowners are not eligible for financial assistance under the EQIP program. However, public land can be eligible for NRCS technical and financial assistance by abiding by the NRCS application language. Applicants must have control of the land for the term of the proposed contract (minimum five years in New Jersey). “Control” is defined as possession of the land by ownership, written lease or other legal agreement. Public land that is managed by a non-profit organization through an agreement with the landowner makes that organization eligible for cost-share assistance for work performed on public land.