History of Arizona’s Natural Resource Conservation Districts
Toward the end of the 19th century, concern was beginning to build about soil loss due to wind and water erosion. In 1898, the first soil survey of the United States was conducted. Soil scientist Hugh Hammond Bennett was so concerned that he published a pamphlet, “Soil Erosion, A National Menace”, and testified before Congress. His testimony resulted in some of the first funding to fight the deteriorating natural resource base and established soil erosion experiment stations in various locations around the United States; however, no national program was established. In 1930, Bennett wrote a paper for the American Society of Agronomy (a non profit agricultural group focused on field-crop production and soil management) in which a national program was outlined.
Federal land management agencies (i.e. National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, etc.) were well staffed with trained technicians to address resource management concerns on pubic lands but, Congress continued to be complacent on the need to address resource management concerns on private lands – until 1934. A national disaster, the great dust storms, moved millions of tons of soil across the Great Plains, destroying farms, ranches and many people’s lives. The dramatic effects of the “Dust Bowl” gained national attention, partly fueled by the novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”. All of this helped galvanize public interest in the plight of farmers and the food supply.
Mr. Bennett lobbied Congress to pass the Soil Conservation Act (Public Law 46) in 1935, which created the Soil Conservation Service. Known today as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Although these were giant leaps in conservation, it quickly became apparent that in order for conservation practices to be effective on private lands, decisions needed to be made at the local level by concerned citizens. Most importantly participation in government sponsored programs by private landowners had to be “voluntary” not “regulatory” in nature. Each state was provided model language and encouraged to draft and pass enabling legislation that established and provided certain authorities to local units of government known today as Natural Resource Conservation Districts.
In Arizona that law is ARS §37 Chapter 6
which authorizes the State Land Commissioner to delegate certain authorities to Districts. Article 2 states that NRCD’s have the authority to conduct research and investigations, demonstrate practices and projects, enter into governmental and private agreements, acquire property, conduct planning, employ staff and establish education centers. Landowners within districts, elect from their peers, district board members who prioritize and oversee various federal assistance programs. The USDA programs help individuals reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies and improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat and reduce damages caused by floods, as well as other natural disasters. Public benefits also include enhanced natural resources, which helps sustain agricultural productivity and environmental quality, thereby supporting continued economic development, recreation, and scenic beauty.
Today, Arizona has 32 Natural Resource Conservation Districts administered by State Land Department NRCD Program and 10 Natural Resource Conservation Districts authorized under federal tribal law.
Forms/ Applications/ Additional Information
Call Amber Morin 602 542-2699 or by email [email protected]
to learn when your local Conservation District board meets or to obtain information on the NRCD education center in your community.