History of the Conservation Movement
A Conservation District supervisor should be familiar with the history of the conservation movement and the creation of conservation districts.
Conservation District History
In the early 1930s, along with the Great Depression, came an equally unparalleled ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl. Huge black dust storms that stretched across the nation blotted out the sun and swallowed the countryside.
In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt summoned Hugh Bennett, a soil scientist, to the White House to see what could be done. Bennett told FDR that 100 million acres had lost its topsoil, nearly half had been destroyed and could never be farmed again. President Roosevelt gave Bennett $5 million in relief funds to start the Soil Erosion Service, a temporary agency intended to provide relief.
Hugh Hammond Bennett
In 1935, Hugh Hammond Bennett testified before Congress to persuade them to fund a permanent agency to heal the land. He proposed local control, with every farm community setting up a soil conservation district. While testifying about America's soil erosion problem, Bennett drew back the curtains to reveal a cloud of dust originating from a dust storm in the Great Plains.
Congress saw themselves the seriousness of the situation and unanimously passed legislation aimed at combating soil erosion and preserving natural resources. The act sought to "control floods, prevent impairment of reservoirs and maintain the navigability of rivers and harbors, protect public health, public lands and relieve unemployment."
Within weeks of the SCS's establishment, Bennett proposed the development of community-based organizations to provide local direction for the SCS programs.
April 14, 1935 was known as Black Sunday, the largest dust storm in history
In 1937 President Roosevelt wrote governors of all states recommending conservation district enabling legislation.
That year the newly created Utah Conservation District Act stated, "The Legislature finds and declares that the soil and water resources of this state constitute one of its basic assets and that the preservation of these resources requires planning and programs to ensure the development and utilization of these resources and to protect them from the adverse effects of wind and water erosion, sediment, and sediment related pollutants."
Today the SCS is known as the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and soil conservation districts are known just as conservation districts, because their focus has expanded beyond soil conservation, to address the natural resource needs of the communities in which they reside.
After passage of the Utah Conservation District Law Act, local communities held public votes to establish local Conservation Districts. Once established, Districts began to carry out projects and provide the local direction for the Soil Conservation Service programs. The SCS would not provide assistance to local landowners, unless there was a soil conservation district through which the SCS could operate.
In Utah 38 Conservation Districts cover all geographic regions of the state. Nationwide, there are over 3,000 Conservation Districts.
Utah Conservation Districts
The first soil conservation district to be organized in Utah was the Minersville Soil Conservation District. The Certificate of Organization was issued by the Utah Secretary of State on October 26, 1937. Six more Utah soil conservation districts were voted in and issued Certificates of Organization in 1938.
Prior to Conservation District's establishment, the US Soil Conservation Service worked closely with federal Civilian Conservation Corps on local projects in Grantsville, Gunlock and Price. The Conservation Districts then assumed responsibility for these projects.
Today local Conservation District boards identify local conservation needs, providing technical assistance and natural resource management services. They work to develop, implement, and evaluate strategic plans to meet those needs by developing a vision and mission for their district.
They take available technical, financial, and educational resources, whatever their source, and focus or coordinate them so that they meet the needs of the local land user for conservation of soil, water, and related natural resources on local, federal land. The Utah Legislature amended the Utah Conservation District Act in 2008 to include responsibility for federal as well as non-federal land.
Conservation district status, authority, and duties
Utah State Code 17D-Chapter 3-103
Each district organized under this chapter is a body corporate and politic; is a political subdivision of the state; and may sue and be sued. A CD may/shall:
- Employ, subject to available funds, clerical and staff personnel, including legal staff;
- Conduct surveys, investigations, and research relating to soil erosion, floodwater, nonpoint water pollution, flood control, water pollution, sediment damage, and watershed development;
- Devise and implement measures for the prevention of soil erosion, floodwater and sediment damages, nonpoint water pollution, and for the conservation, development, utilization and disposal of water on state or private lands with the consent of the land occupier.
- Construct, improve, operate, and maintain a structures considered necessary or convenient for the performance of any operation authorized by this chapter;
- Acquire property, both real and personal, through purchase, or otherwise, and maintain, improve, and administer such property consistent with the purposes of this chapter;
- Enter into contracts or agreements in the name of the district;
- Receive funds from any federal or state agency or from any county, city, or other political subdivision within the state or from any private source;
- Make recommendations governing land use within the conservation district, including: development or restoration of range or forest lands or other natural resources, whether in private, state, or federal ownership. For a complete listing of duties and authorities, see Utah State Code 17D - Chapter 3-103
- Make recommendations for county and municipal land use authorities within the conservation district to consider with respect to land use applications and other development proposals.
- Annually submit to the Utah Conservation Commission a copy of the minutes of each district meeting, a copy of its annual work plan, and an accounting of the district's financial affairs.
National Association of Conservation districts (NACD)
When representatives from 32 soil conservation districts met in Washington, D.C. in 1946 and set in motion the process to organize a national association of conservation districts, over 1,600 soil conservation districts had already formed in 48 states.
By forming a national organization in 1946 the districts provided the means to deliver a unified message to policy makers and to better coordinate district activities.
Soon after the establishment of the NACD, the Utah Association of Conservation Districts was created in 1948.