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Do you ever wonder how Conservation Districts got started? Their history?

In the early 1930’s large drought conditions took over the Great Plains. For most of us, we know this drought as the Dust Bowl or Dirty Thirties. The extreme drought conditions caused widespread crop failures and exposed the region’s soil to blowing wind. The scarcity of moisture continued, and more intense and frequent storms blew throughout 1935.

Investigations by federal agencies found the dust storms were caused by a combination of severe drought and decades of poor farming practices. Deep furrow plows turned up the thick natural prairie grass sod to reach soils for planting crops. This loss of grass sod exposed the soil and made it vulnerable to dry weather conditions. With the innovation of tractors in the twentieth century, this erosion process quickened.

With this information, the USDA convinced President Roosevelt and Congress that a comprehensive program of farmer education was needed to reverse the ecological conditions on the Plains. Soon, the concept of the Soil and Water Conservation Service was formed.

Congress commenced hearings on a proposed soil conservation law. The result was the Soil Conservation Act (PL 74-46), which President Roosevelt signed on April 17th, 1935, creating the Soil Conservation Service in the USDA.


How were individual Conservation Districts started?
Creators of the Soil Conservation act discussed the purpose of conservation districts. They found a need for a strong and accountable local element to the governance structure in conservation districts. Their goal was to find a way where local units, individual farmers, the counties, and states can feel just as responsible for erosion control as do the Soil Conservation Service. They proposed boundaries for the districts throughout the states, have people vote to create a district of supervisors. Each district would be governed by the people they elected. Each district would them plan and develop their own erosion control plan and carry them out.


How does voting for the Board of Supervisors work?

Not all board members are elected or voted on, Congress decided to have a mix of three elected and two appointed members, chosen by the Washington State Conservation Commission. The reasoning for this was to create, “a blend of democratic representation through elected supervisors and technical expertise so that at least two members of every single district board of supervisors, and of state soil conservation committees, would be people chosen because of their professional knowledge of the erosion control problems, and because of their knowledge of what techniques, machinery, equipment, supplies, practices would be needed to carry out the erosion control plan.”

The term of office for each supervisor is three years, and each supervisor serves without compensation. The supervisors perform their duties through volunteering their time and effort.


What are the duties and responsibilities of Conservation District Board of Directors?

Again Conservation Districts are units of local government (municipal entities) established under state law to carry out natural resource management programs at the local level. Although much district work focuses primarily on agricultural activities, districts are authorized in statute to provide technical assistance and implement natural resource projects in rural, suburban and urban areas.


How are Conservation Districts funded?

They are specifically precluded from having the authority to levy taxes or issue bonds, funded through a variety of sources including, allocation from the Conservation Commission for operational activities funded through the state general fund. Projects that the Conservation District participates in are funded through state capital funds and grants from other agencies.

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