7 CFR 1415.8 - Establishing priority for enrollment of properties.
(a) USDA, at the national level, will provide to NRCS State Conservationists and FSA State Executive Directors, national guidelines for establishing State-specific ranking criteria for selection of applications for funding.
(b) NRCS State Conservationists and FSA State Executive Directors, with advice from State Technical Committees, establish criteria to evaluate and rank applications for easement and rental contract enrollment, including applications from eligible entities under § 1415.17, following the guidance established in paragraph (a) of this section.
(c) Ranking criteria will emphasize support for:
(1) Grazing operations;
(2) Protection of grassland, land that contains forbs, and shrubland at the greatest risk from the threat of conversion to uses other than grazing;
(3) Plant and animal biodiversity; and
(4) In ranking parcels offered by eligible entities, these additional criteria will also be considered -
(i) Leveraging of non-Federal funds, and
(ii) Entity contributions in excess of 50 percent of the purchase price, as defined in § 1415.3.
(d) When funding is available, NRCS State Conservationists and FSA State Executive Directors will periodically select for funding the highest ranked applications, including applications from entities under § 1415.17, based on applicant and land eligibility and the State-developed ranking criteria.
(e) NRCS State Conservationists and FSA State Executive Directors may establish separate ranking pools to address, for example, specific conservation issues raised by State, regional, and national conservation priorities.
(f) The NRCS State Conservationist and FSA State Executive Director, with advice from the State Technical Committee, may emphasize enrollment of unique grasslands or specific geographic areas of the State.
(g) The NRCS State Conservationist and the FSA State Executive Director, with advice from the State Technical Committee, will select applications for funding.
(h) If available funds are insufficient to accept the highest ranked application, and the applicant is not interested in reducing the acres offered to match available funding, the State Conservationist or State Executive Director may select a lower ranked application that can be fully funded.
(i) Land enrolled in a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contract that is within one year of the scheduled expiration date will receive a priority for enrollment. To receive this priority, the following criteria must be met:
(1) The land must be eligible as defined in § 1415.5;
(2) USDA, with advice from the State Technical Committee, must determine it is of high ecological value and under significant threat of conversion to uses other than grazing;
(3) The land must be offered for easement or 20-year rental contract enrollment;
(4) Expired CRP land enrolled under this priority will not exceed 10 percent of the total number of acres accepted for national enrollment in GRP in any year; and
(5) This priority applies only up to 12 months before the scheduled expiration of the CRP contract.
(j) USDA will manage the program nationally to ensure that, to the extent practicable, 60 percent of funds are used for the purchase of easements, either directly or through cooperative agreements with eligible entities as set forth in § 1415.17 and 40 percent of funds are used for rental contracts.