Payments for Conservation: The Conservation Stewardship Program

The health of private lands has always been important to society as a whole. That’s why federal, state, and county governments offer public conservation assistance to private landowners. Among the latest such assistance is the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a grant program for conservation-minded landowners.

People pulling invasive plants in field
A work party pulls the invasive plant, spotted knapweed.

Water and air quality, biodiversity, and the health of forests are our collective responsibility. Not to mention that 70 percent of the contiguous United States is in private ownership.

But lest you view government support as simply a handout, it doesn’t work without a landowner’s conservation ethic. Drive the countryside, and you’ll see that personal pride in land ownership is the rule, not the exception.

And often landowners are willing to do more if they know which conservation practices are priorities, where these practices are best carried out, and what costs will be covered.

Respecting landowners’ current conservation efforts and encouraging them to take the next steps are the goals of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a voluntary federal program delivered through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

What is CSP?

In a nutshell, CSP participants receive an annual payment for the environmental benefits they produce through current and future conservation practices. The minimum payment is $1,500 per year for a five-year contract. Participants are paid for conservation performance: the more conservation enhancements they agree to implement, the higher their payment.

Is CSP Right for Me?

If you are already taking steps to improve the condition of your land, chances are CSP can help you find new ways to meet your goals. CSP helps you build on your existing conservation efforts. This program is well-suited for landowners already enrolled in management plan or financial assistance programs.

How Does CSP Work?

CSP encourages land stewards to improve their conservation performance by installing and adopting additional activities, as well as improving, maintaining, and managing existing activities on agricultural land and non-industrial, private forestland. All eligible land under your ownership and control must be included for the minimum five-year term of the contract.

Applications are evaluated relative to other applications that propose to address similar priority concerns, facilitating a competitive ranking process among applicants within a state who face similar resource challenges.

How is My Annual Payment Determined?

Program requirements and payments are customized to your current and proposed conservation activities within the five-year contract. Contact your county NRCS office to run through the calculations, and remember that the minimum annual payment is $1,500/year.

How Do I Apply?

NRCS offices will be processing applications through February 25, 2022. USDA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only and field work will continue with appropriate social distancing. While program delivery staff will continue to come into the office, they will be working with landowners by phone, and using online tools whenever possible.

For more information, see NRCS’s Conservation Stewardship Program page HERE or contact your Local Service Center to schedule a phone appointment.