Conservation Management Tool

The overall goal of this work was to develop an approach to evaluate and improve the Conservation Measurement Tool that USDA-NRCS uses to administer its Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The Conservation Measurement Tool (CMT) was developed in response to the 2008 Farm Bill and the need for tools to implement CSP. The CMT is a comprehensive tool that evaluates operational conservation performance by ranking management practices according to their influence on specific ecosystem services including air, soil, and water quality and quantity, plant health, wildlife habitat and energy conservation. The tool is spreadsheet-based and was derived from other expert-systems that had been developed to evaluate individual resource concerns. The CMT has been used nationwide to rank applications seeking CSP enrollment of crop-, pasture-, range-, and forest-lands since 2009. The approach to analysis and validation we use is intended to improve the current CMT and inform design of future program and planning tools. Efforts reported below address three objectives. Objective 1 was to evaluate the potential for NRCS to use results from peer-reviewed literature to improve ranking tool design by evaluating the relationship between soil properties identified with CMT’s resource concerns and management practices that are considered to be important ‘enhancements’. Objective 2 was to use statistical methods to quantify relationships between soil management practices and the magnitude and direction of changes in indicators using soil organic carbon as a proxy measure. Objective 3 was to assess the performance and usability of CMT at the regional level and determine whether use of simulated results to adapt CMT weightings would be a viable option for tool improvement. Project outputs include a program brief prepared for early-stage Farm Bill discussions and recommendations for tool improvement

Products of this work include:

Michelle Wander; Susan Andrews; Carmen Ugarte; Ho-young Kwon. Final Report to NRCS Agreement number: 68-7482-9-547.  NRCS Conservation Measurement Tool Validation Project,  January 24, 2013

Ugarte, M.C., Kwon, H-Y., Andrews, S.A. and M.M. Wander.  2014. A Meta-analysis of soil organic matter response to soil management practices in the continental United States.  Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 69:422-430.

Work on climate mitigation by organic farms built on this effort.

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