1469.6 Enrollment criteria and selection process.§ 1469.6 Enrollment criteria and selection process.
(a) Selection and funding of priority watersheds. (1) NRCS will prioritize watersheds based on a nationally consistent process using existing natural resource, environmental quality, and agricultural activity data along with other information that may be necessary to efficiently operate the program. The watershed prioritization and identification process will consider several factors, including but not limited to:
(i) Potential of surface and ground water quality to degradation;
(ii) Potential of soil to degradation;
(iii) Potential of grazing land to degradation;
(iv) State or national conservation and environmental issues e.g., location of air non-attainment zones or important wildlife/fisheries habitat; and
(v) Local availability of management tools needed to more efficiently operate the program, such as digital soils information.
(2) Priority watersheds selected, in which producers would be potentially eligible for enrollment, will be announced in the sign-up notice.
(b) Enrollment categories. The Chief may limit new program enrollments in any fiscal year to enrollment categories designed to focus on priority conservation concerns and enhancement measures. NRCS will utilize enrollment categories to determine which contracts will be funded in a given sign-up.
(1) Enrollment categories may be defined by criteria related to resource concerns and levels of historic conservation treatment, including the producer's willingness to achieve additional environmental performance or conduct enhancement activities.
(2) All applications which meet the sign-up criteria within the priority watersheds will be placed in an enrollment category regardless of available funding.
(3) NRCS will develop subcategories within each enrollment category and include them in the sign-up notice. The development of subcategories may consider several factors, including:
(i) Willingness of the applicant to participate in local conservation enhancement activities;
(ii) Targeting program participation for Limited Resource Producers;
(iii) Targeting program participation to water quality priority areas for nutrient or pest management;
(iv) Targeting program participation for locally important wildlife/fisheries habitat creation and protection; and
(v) Other priorities as determined by the Secretary.
(4) At the beginning of each sign-up, the Chief will announce the order in which categories and subcategories are eligible to be funded.
(5) All eligible applications will be placed in the highest priority enrollment category and sub-category for which the application qualifies.
(6) Enrollment categories and subcategories will be funded in priority order until the available funds specified in the CSP sign-up notice are exhausted.
(c) Sign-up process. (1) NRCS will publish a CSP sign-up notice with sufficient time for producers to consider the benefits of participation prior to the opening of the sign-up period. In the public sign-up notice, the Chief will announce and explain the rationale for decisions for the following information:
(i) Any additional program eligibility criteria that are not listed in § 1469.5;
(ii) Any additional nationally significant resource concerns that are not listed in § 1469.4(a) that will apply;
(iii) Any additional requirements that participants must include in their CSP applications and contracts that are not listed in § 1469.21;
(iv) Information on the priority order of enrollment categories and subcategories for funding contracts;
(v) Specific information on the level of funding that NRCS estimates will go toward stewardship, existing practice, and enhancement payments;
(vi) An estimate of the total funds NRCS expects to obligate under new contracts during a given sign-up, and an estimate for the number of enrollment categories and contracts NRCS expects to be able to fund; and
(vii) The schedule for the sign-up process, including the deadline(s) for applying.
(2) NRCS will accept applications according to the timeframes specified in the sign-up notice.
(d) Selection of contracts. (1) NRCS will determine whether the application meets the eligibility criteria, and will place applications into an enrollment category and subcategory based on the criteria specified in the sign-up notice and into a Tier based on the criteria in 1469.5(e). Enrollment categories will be funded in the order designated in the sign-up notice until the available funding is exhausted. NRCS will determine the number of categories that can be funded in accordance with the sign-up notice, and will inform the applicant of its determinations.
(2) NRCS will develop a conservation stewardship contract for the selected applications. If the contract falls within the enrollment categories and subcategories funded in the given sign-up, NRCS will make payments as described in the contract in return for the implementation and/or maintenance of a specified level of conservation treatment on all or part of the agricultural operation.