While pleased the budget agreement avoids a government shutdown and replaces sequestration for the next two years, the National Association of Conservation Districts is concerned about the unprecedented imposition of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service technical assistance user fees. NACD President Earl Garber says the move is short-sighted, creating a burden on producers who are simply trying to be proactive and do the right thing for the land and water resources. According to Garber, user fees will discourage producers from implementing critical conservation practices at a time when they have the heavy burden of meeting the demand of a growing population. He says this will ultimately take a toll on the nation’s natural resource base. Garber says NACD cannot support user fees if they aren’t going toward the technical assistance that is necessary to do conservation planning. As the Budget Resolution reads, he notes there’s no guarantee that receipts collected from user fees would be allocated for future conservation planning and implementation.
Waivers are included in the resolution, but Garber says even the process of seeking a waiver creates an administrative burden for an agency already managing a large workload. The group argues the administrative burden of collecting these fees would potentially outweigh the dollars saved. Garber urges the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to prioritize conservation as they make allocations for the Agriculture Subcommittees. NACD is calling for an increase in Conservation Operations funding to help offset the budget cuts to conservation in relation to NRCS user fees for proactive conservation planning.