42 Districts One Great State

Arizona's Conservation Districts

The 1930's Dust Bowl caused wide-spread soil erosion and loss of plant and animal crops across America’s Great Plains, crippling our nation’s food supply. In response to this crisis, President Roosevelt established a national policy on soil conservation and a governmental organization under the USDA in 1935 (the Soil Conservation Service, now called the Natural Resources Conservation Service), and in 1942, local subdivisions of this organization were created.

There are 42 Conservation Districts in Arizona: 32 are administered under state law and identified as Natural Resource Conservation Districts, while 10 are administered under tribal law and identified as Tribal Soil and Water Conservation Districts – collectively, “Conservation Districts” (or simply, “Districts”). With their formation, Conservation Districts were given broad authority including the power to:

  • Identify resource problems by surveys, research, and consultation with landowners

  • Coordinate planning to address resource problems among landowners and state and federal agencies

  • Obtain property or equipment and contract for the provision of technical and other services

  • Seek funding from various sources to support implementation of conservation practices

  • Conduct education and training programs for local landowners and other interests

Conservation Districts are the only organization in Arizona – local, state, or federal – with such broad authority to work on all types of natural resource conservation practices across all land ownership/usage types. All other government agencies are restricted to specific resources (e.g. water, wildlife) or land ownership/usage type (e.g. private, federal, state). In a state where a large percentage of the land is administered by federal agencies, Conservation Districts are uniquely positioned to represent the concerns of Arizona’s residents, especially those in small towns and rural areas, and to see that Arizona’s conservation interests are protected from outside interests or national policies.

The Districts serve state, private, federal, and tribal lands, administered by a Board of Supervisors. Each District sets priorities for their area and engages in conservation practices with their District Cooperators. (What's a Cooperator? Click here to learn more!)

Courtesy of Eloy NRCD
Courtesy of Eloy NRCD

What Conservation Districts Do

The Arizona Legislature has charged Arizona's Conservation Districts with the statutory responsibility (ARS Title 37 Public Lands, Chapter 6) to provide for the: 

  • Restoration and conservation of lands and soil resources of the state
  • Preservation of water rights and the control and prevention of soil erosion
  • Conservation of natural resources and wildlife
  • Protection of public lands
  • Protection and restoration of the state’s rivers and streams (and associated riparian habitats, including fish and wildlife resources that are dependent on those habitats)
  • Protection and promotion of public health, safety, and general welfare of the people

How Conservation Districts Came to Be A Brief History

1930s - The Dust Bowl devastates America’s cropland

1935 - Congress declares soil and water conservation a national priority (PL 46) & signs the Soil Conservation Act

1937 - President Franklin D. Roosevelt provides states with model legislation to create conservation districts

1941 - Arizona's Soil Conservation Districts are established: AZ Legislature authorizes enabling act A.R.S. 37-1001, et seq.

1944 - Arizona Association of Conservation Districts is established

1970 - Arizona’s Soil Conservation Districts are renamed Natural Resource Conservation Districts

1980s - Tribal Soil & Water Conservation Districts are formed under Tribal Council Law