(Editor’s note: This week, we begin a new column written by employees of local soil and water conservation districts in Ohio. Conservation districts are one of the best-kept secrets across the U.S., and we hope you’ll tune in each week to learn more.)
What is a soil and water conservation district? For the life of me, I can’t come up with a simple answer.
And, to add to my horror, I’m supposed to include what 88 other districts do for their counties all across Ohio?
I wish I could simply say that we conserve natural resources, but that is just not the case.
I like to think that soil and water conservation districts advise landowners in the best use of the nature resources on their property. I would venture to include wildlife as a natural resource and think that economic development should be included in the pot and stirred.
You and I both know you don’t want some tree-hugger telling you how to make your property “pristine.” You want to make it profitable. So, why haven’t we promoted conservation districts as economic development portals for landowners? I don’t know the answer to that question, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.
We, as conservation districts, also work with rural homeowners, urban homeowners, and absentee landowners.
Our services, as vast as they are, don’t cater to any one demographic. We are here to serve the masses. We don’t discriminate. We are here to help you utilize what resources you have to make your life better and more productive.
In the beginning, each district was formed to “save the soil” following the big dust bowl of the 1930s. Farmers couldn’t grow anything because of terrible farming practices, combined with a drought, that left the soil eroded.
When the dust bowl began, the soil was swept up and dispersed into piles and the fields were left with just rocks and clay not suitable for growing crops. The federal government stepped in and offered subsidies to farmers to utilize conservation practices that would help keep the soil on the land.
Then, year after year, each county in Ohio caught on to the idea and formed locally led soil conservation districts. Community members petitioned the state to form a five-member board that would govern each district.
Each focuses its attention on what the local board determines to be “natural resource priorities.” In Harrison County for instance, we focus on reclamation and farming, because the mining industry and agriculture are the two most important industries in the county.
Over the years, districts added the word “water” to their names and provided farmers with more advanced conservation practices, including spring developments, access roads, and heavy use pads, all with that same idea — to keep soil in its place.
In more recent years, districts have added an urban aspect to their work. Rain coming off of houses and streets, or storm water, has been included into our vocabulary, but not our names.
We have also taken an interest in wildlife. Many districts help landowners manage wildlife populations on farms, rural areas, community parks, and in towns and cities.
Other districts provide ditch maintenance services, rental equipment programs, as well as watershed education.
If it is tied to the environment, chances are that a conservation district has a hand in it.
I think it is also important to mention the many partners that conservation districts rely on; primarily the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; our parent ODNR Division of Soil & Water Resources; and other divisions within ODNR including Wildlife and Forestry.
There are many other federal, state and local partners. However, each district uses them in different capacities.
So, what does all this mean? Well, it means there is no easy answer to describe what a conservation district is and what it does. It also means you should contact your local district to find out exactly how it can help you.