“One of the best, and certainly the most promising, of the devices yet invented by man for dealing democratically and effectively with maladjustment in land use, as well as for carrying forward positive programs of desirable conservation, and for maintaining the work, is the soil conservation district.”
Hugh Hammond Bennett
The fertile soils of the mid-west had been overused and the native grasses removed. This combined with the ensuing drought, soil from the land was blown as far east as Washington D.C. and New York. Thousands of mid-westerners abandoned their farms to seek a better way of life. This was known as the DUST BOWL.
Our nation was faced with the challenge of how to mobilize farmers to adopt new farming practices that would keep the soil on the ground. Our nation’s leaders realized implementing conservation of private land would require the voluntary active participation of the private landowners. With this, the concept of soil and water conservation districts was born. Conservation Districts were created in 1937 with the passing of the “Standard Soil Conservation Districts Law”. Lincoln Conservation District was formed in 1943.
Today there are more than 3000 conservation district’s across the nation of which 58 are here in Montana. In the early days and for many years, conservation districts focused on helping farmers implement conservation measures to prevent soil erosion. Over the years their scope has broadened to include administration of the 310 Law “Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act”, water quality, Riparian Management Conservation education, watershed planning, resource conservation and development.
A non-paid elected and appointed board of supervisors governs the activities of a conservation district. Their main function is to conduct local activities to promote conservation of natural resources. The activities vary from district to district, but generally include education or on-the-the ground conservation projects. Conservation districts, however, have the authority to pass land use ordinances if necessary to conserve local natural resources. In addition, individuals planning to work in or near a perennial stream or river must first receive a permit from their local conservation district.
Funding for conservation district operations comes from their authority to levy a tax on real property within their district. For conservation projects and educational activities, conservation districts rely heavily on grants from state and federal governments. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides the majority of technical assistance for conservation district activities and the two entities usually share office space when their offices are located in the same towns.