Historically, federal conservation programs have focused on solving environmental and natural resource problems on individual farms. While improvements have been made in water quality and wildlife habitat at the farm scale, landscape-scale environmental benefits in streams, lakes,and bays, for example, are less commonly documented. Excess nutrients (nitrogen, N, and phosphorus, P) continue to impair thousands of waterways, and eutrophication leads to hypoxia (low oxygen levels that harm aquatic life) or dead zones in water bodies around the country.
Currently, approximately 10 percent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) conservation budget is spent on targeting conservation efforts in high priority areas to achieve environmental outcomes at the landscape scale (i.e., across a geographic region facing similar water quality issues such as a watershed). However, focusing more conservation efforts in this manner, as opposed to the predominant approach, which disperses rather than concentrates funds across farms in each state, has the potential to achieve greater environmental improvements per dollar spent. In 2009, NRCS launched the Landscape Conservation Initiatives to more effectively address priority environmental and natural resource concerns by focusing on the most important geographic areas. These initiatives hold great promise for cost effectively achieving significant outcomes at the landscape scale.