Community Agriculture Alliance: Conservation districts important for agriculture, environment
As you are driving around the state, you may notice a sign that indicates you have crossed into the next county. Often, there is a sign next to it that lets you know you are entering a new conservation district. If you are involved in agriculture, then you are likely already aware of your local conservation district and the role they have played in conservation over the past 90 years.
Conservation districts are a result of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The widespread use of heavy annual tillage coupled with severe drought left the soil bare and open to erosion. Due to the dramatic nature of the dust storms, Congress authorized the creation of the Soil Conservation Service — now the Natural Resources Conservation Service — in 1935.
It soon became apparent that successful conservation required input from local farmers and ranchers. Colorado’s first conservation district was formed in Moffat County in December 1937 and is now called Colorado First Conservation District (CDA publication, 2010). Other districts were soon formed and covered all of Colorado.
Conservation districts provide many different services to communities around Colorado. They provide demonstrations of conservation practices, produce educational publications and assist landowners in the implementation of conservation. They have been instrumental in the development of farming and ranching practices that reduce soil erosion and water usage, improve wildlife habitat, combat invasive weeds and many other actions that help to improve private lands.
Last year’s drought highlighted the necessity of having a strong conservation district in Routt County. Helping to organize water conservation projects that work for our local irrigators could lessen the impacts of the next drought on the Yampa River. Assisting landowners with forest health and fuel reduction practices could improve the chances of the next fire being a healthy one.
With the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, there are a lot of new opportunities to get assistance with conservation projects. The Routt County Conservation District can work with NRCS, non-profits and other conservation groups to ensure the projects are right for all local stakeholders.
The last two years have been tough for the Routt County Conservation District. The district manager and the NRCS District Conservationist both left around the same time in 2016. Without them, the conservation district relied solely on the volunteer time of local ranchers and farmers. It eventually became almost entirely defunct.
I was hired as the district conservationist in September 2018 and have made it a priority to get the conservation district up and running again. With it functioning, hopefully, we will be able to continue to provide the technical and financial assistance that Routt County agriculture deserves.
If you have questions about Routt County Conservation District or NRCS, contact Clinton Whitten at 970-879-3225, ext. 108.
Clinton Whitten is a Routt County District Conservationist.
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