As the wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District I am occasionally asked by people, “just what is a soil and water conservation district?”
People are occasionally confused, for instance barely a week passes that I don’t get a phone call from someone wanting their water turned back on, or wanting to complain about their bill. For the record, we aren’t the water company.
By definition a conservation district is a local unit of government required by state law to carry out natural resource management programs, specifically soil and water resources. Districts work with landowners and operators who are willing to help them protect these precious resources.
The key word is “conservation,” which refers to the wise use of our natural resources. For instance, the mission of the Meigs SWCD is to “provide assistance for the wise use of our natural resources for present and future generations.”
If you are reading this somewhere in the United States, odds are very good that you are served by an SWCD. There are at least 3,000 conservation districts nationwide, according the National Association of Conservation District. Districts came about largely as a result of the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, when a sustained drought and subsequent windstorms took countless millions of tons of precious topsoil.
Here in Ohio, there are 88 SWCDs, one per county, with each of those being governed by a five-member elected board of supervisors.
Just as no two counties are the same, neither are any two SWCDs. Each district reflects its unique area, geography and characteristics. Urban counties may have “urban technicians” that deal with planning and development issues concerning storm water runoff or other issues; areas with large numbers of animal farms commonly have manure specialists (yes, for real) who assist producers in developing manure management plans. Counties in northern and northwest Ohio generally have ditch maintenance technicians or specialists who work on maintaining and protecting the drainage that makes agriculture possible in those areas. Forestry technicians are scattered throughout eastern and southeastern Ohio while wildlife specialists, who assist landowners and producers with wildlife-related issues, can be found throughout the state.
Many SWCD employees are “slashies,” meaning they have at least two job titles separated by a slash, i.e. wildlife/watershed specialist or forestry/wildlife. Of course there is the catch-all phrase: “All other duties as assigned.”
Most districts have equipment that they rent to farmers or other landowners; equipment that is designed to protect topsoil as well as protecting streams and waterways from sediment resulting from soil erosion. Equipment such as no-till drills (designed to plant grasses, legumes and grains without disturbing protective ground cover), tree planters and lime spreaders are common among districts.
Districts also hold educational programs for school-age children, usually in their classrooms, and for adults as well. Many people are more familiar with the districts through their annual tree sales or other activities.
In Meigs County, the district oversees the day-to-day operation of the county’s recycling program, and owns and maintains the 174-acre Conservation Area in Rutland Township.
District staff often works hand-in-hand with conservationists and other employees working for the United States Department of Agriculture - Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA - Farm Service Agency, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Soil and Water Resources and other state agencies including the Division of Mineral Resources Management, Division and Wildlife and others.
As indicated before, Gallia and Meigs counties have their own district, while the Western Conservation District headquartered in Point Pleasant serves Mason, Jackson and Putnam counties in West Virginia. Wherever the location, the emphasis is on assisting private landowners.
Supervisors serving these districts are volunteers, elected by people in their districts. The people who work for the districts are generally your friends and neighbors. In short, you, your friends and your neighbors are the SWCD.
Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District and long-time contributor to the Sunday Times-Sentinel. He can be contacted weekdays at (740) 992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org