This year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Arizona Soil Conservation District Enabling Act that authorized the establishment of Soil Conservation Districts in Arizona.
It is declared the policy of the legislature to provide for the restoration and conservation of lands and soil resources of the state, the preservation of water rights and the control and prevention of soil erosion, and thereby to conserve natural resources, conserve wildlife, protect the tax base, protect public lands and protect and restore this state‟s rivers and streams and associated riparian habitats, including fish and wildlife resources that are dependent on those habitats, and in such manner to protect and promote the public health, safety and general welfare of the people.
ARS Title 37, Chapter 6
It is unimaginable, and often forgotten, how in the early 1930s, Americans survived the greatest ecological disaster of our history-The Dust Bowl. Following a severe and sustained drought in the Great Plains, the region‟s soil began to erode and blow away creating huge black dust storms-walls of soil that blotted out the sun and swallowed whole towns. At that time, many thought that the world was literally coming to an end. The storms stretched across the nation, even sifting fine dust into the White House and onto the desk of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1935 alone, 850 million tons of soil was displaced leaving over 100 million acres barren.
As a result, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created The Soil Conservation Service (NRCS) in 1935,
but also realized that in order to extend conservation assistance to more farmers and overcome the distrust that existed between landowners and the federal government, they also needed to establish democratically organized conservation districts to lead the conservation planning effort at the local level. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt requested of all the states that they enact legislation allowing local landowners to form Soil Conservation Districts ( now NRCDs). This was necessary because nearly three-fourths of the U.S. was privately owned, and Congress realized that only active, voluntary support from landowners would ensure that conservation of the country‟s natural resources would be successful. Trust needed to be re-established and a landowner-to-landowner relationship was required. Arizona‟s Conservation District enabling act was passed in 1941.
Arizona has 32 Conservation Districts created in statute and nine Tribal Conservation Districts. Together they blanket the entire state. Most are rural and still focus on conservation practices for agricultural lands. These districts are governed by locally elected landowners who serve as Supervisors and continue to manage districts for their original intent: to provide for the restoration and conservation of lands and soil resources of the state, the preservation of water rights and the control and prevention of soil erosion, and thereby to conserve natural resources, conserve wildlife, protect the tax base…(ARS Title 37, Chapter 6).
Conservation Districts are legal subdivisions of the state, providing the most effective avenue for landowners to take the lead in the conservation of natural resources and use their knowledge as local land and water experts to impact natural resource management decisions within those Districts.
Districts prioritize the disbursement of federal conservation program funding and educate landowners about the resources and tools available to them. Landowners work through the Districts to develop conservation plans and obtain technical assistance. Supervisors work across ownership boundaries with all land and water agencies to provide valuable local knowledge in resource planning.
Conservation activities currently include, but are not limited to: flood control projects, rangeland monitoring assistance, watershed assessments, wildlife habitat improvement projects and education, irrigation management, alternative energy education and assistance, archaeological site preservation, and conservation education workshops for producers. Conservation Districts also manage Environmental Education Centers that focus on science-based environmental education, straight forward lessons on natural resource conservation, and agriculture awareness education for children and adults.
The farmers and ranchers managing the lands surrounding Arizona‟s urban areas are vital to ensuring that water comes out of the tap and a healthy meal is on your dinner table.