The goal of NRCS NEAP is to develop strategies to monitor, adaptively manage and ensure compliance of NRCS easements enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP), Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP), and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program-Floodplain Easements (EWPP-FPE).




Within the NRCS – UTIA partnership, the University of Tennessee has assembled a team of scientists to collaborate with stakeholders from local, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), interest groups, academia, and other groups to identify methods useful for developing easement monitoring protocols and management strategies.  The multidisciplinary UTIA team will consist of scientists specializing in terrestrial and wetland ecology, bioassessment, geographic information systems and remote sensing, and natural resource economics.

Matthew Gray, Ph.D. (Project Leader)

Katherine Edwards, Ph.D. (Project Supervisor)

Dr. Katherine (Katie) Edwards is the NEAP project supervisor for the UTIA team.  Her primary responsibilities are to supervise, organize, and assist with team activities. Dr. Edwards works with NRCS leadership and the UTIA team to organize stakeholder meetings including representatives from local, state, and federal agencies, NGO’s, academia, and interest groups to develop strategies to monitor, adaptively manage, and ensure compliance of NRCS easement programs. Dr. Edwards assists team members by identifying key resources necessary for implementing monitoring and management practices. She collaborates with all team members to prioritize the workload and ensure project milestones are achieved including the synthesis and submission of progress and final reports. Additional duties include creation and maintenance of the NEAP website through the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

Heath Hagy, Ph.D. (Wetland Ecosystems Specialist)

Dr. Heath Hagy is the NEAP Wetland Specialist on the UTIA team.  His primary role is to develop expertise in all phases of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program-Floodplain Easements (EWPP-FPE) including justification, implementation, assessment, and adaptive management to meet program objectives.  Dr. Hagy will collaborate with other wetland ecologists to identify variables important in characterizing wetland function.  Variables may be identified from current state monitoring programs, scientific literature, existing wetland assessment models, and opinions of experts in the field of wetlands ecology and management.  Dr. Hagy will lead the UTIA team in identification and summarization of important variables and collaborate with the Bioassessment Specialist (Dr. William Sutton) to construct models important to characterize wetland function.  Ideally, Drs. Hagy and Sutton will collaborate with scientists from across North America to build a series of models that will allow NRCS personnel to characterize wetland easement function and current restoration trajectory in meeting program objectives.  Additionally, Dr. Hagy will lead with development and identification of adaptive management approaches helpful to NRCS biologists and landowners that ensure compliance with program objectives.

Douglas Osborne, Ph.D. (Terrestrial Ecosystems Specialist)

Dr. Douglas Osborne is the NEAP Terrestrial Ecosystems Specialist for the UTIA team. He is responsible with all actions associated with Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP), and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP).  Dr. Osborne will consult with experts from federal, state, non-governmental conservation partners, university faculty, and other partners of large monitoring initiatives associated with grassland and upland forest resources.  He will use the expertise of these partners to identify variables that will in turn be used to develop Rapid Bioassessment Models in collaboration with Dr. William Sutton that will assist in determining whether the anticipated ecological benefits and program objectives are being met.  Adaptive Management strategies will be developed for those Easements that are not on trajectory to meet the ecological benefits according to USDA program objectives.

William Sutton, Ph.D. (Bioassessment Specialist)

Dr. William (Bill) Sutton is the NEAP bioassessment specialist on the UTIA team. To obtain the necessary information to develop bioassessment protocols, Dr. Sutton will collaborate with the university and state and governmental agency bioassessment experts along with Dr. Heath Hagy (Wetland Specialist) and Dr. Douglas Osborne (Terrestrial Specialist) of the NEAP team to target important variables for WRP/EWPP-FPE easements and HFRP/GRP/FRPP easement programs, respectively. His primary role is to understand and develop range-wide rapid bioassessment models that can be used to determine if program objectives are being met on easement lands for WRP, HFRP, EWPP-FPE, GRP, and FRPP. To obtain the necessary information regarding these easement programs, Dr. Sutton collaborates with Dr. Heath Hagy (Wetland Specialist) and Dr. Douglas Osborne (Terrestrial Ecosystem Specialist), to target important variables for WRP / EWPP-FPE easements and HFRP, GRP, FRPP easements, respectively.

Gabe Upchurch, M.S. (GIS/Remote Sensing Specialist)

Gabe Upchurch is the NEAP GIS/Remote Sensing Specialist on the UTIA team.  His primary role on the team will be to develop approaches using remote sensing and GIS technology to monitor conservation easements for compliance under the five NRCS easement programs.  Additionally, Mr. Upchurch will be working with team ecologists to explore possible uses of remote sensing and GIS technologies to assess the status of ecological restoration occurring on conservation easement properties.

Zhimei Guo, Ph.D. (Natural Resource Economist)

Dr. Zhimei Guo is the NEAP Natural Resource Economist on the UTIA team. Her primary responsibility is to estimate costs in collaboration with NRCS economists and other stakeholders associated with recommended monitoring, managing, and compliance strategies for all NRCS easement programs. She will perform cost-benefit analysis for each strategy developed by the UTIA Ecology team and develop models to predict economic value generated from ecosystem services as easements track restoration. She also seeks to develop a model to analyze how landowner characteristics and other factors influence landowner compliance with easement terms.

Contact Info:

National Easement Assessment Project
Attn: Dr. Katie Edwards
274 Ellington Plant Sciences Bldg
Knoxville, TN 37996-4563
865.946.1142 [ofc]
865.974.4714 [fax]