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Look for us in the Cadillac News! Our weekly column - "Conservation Corner" is featured every Tuesday.
Here's a recent article:
History of the Conservation Districts
By Tiffany Jones
Conservation district history starts with the dust bowl in the 1930s. Out of a need to protect our nation’s soil. Today there are nearly 3000 Districts across the United States with a mission to protect our natural resources. This broader focus includes soil, water, forests, and wildlife.
The Dust Bowl
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century many farmers settled in the Great Plains, because of the Homesteading Acts. Farmers found that the Great Plains had very fertile soil, perfect for crops and cultivation. In the 1910s and 1920s there was a need for American farmers to produce more wheat for Europe because of World War I. In order to do this, farmers plowed up millions of acres of native grassland in the Great Plains. Once, the Great Depression hit the prices of wheat drastically doped. In order to combat farmers needed to plant more crops, again this meant plowing up more native grassland. Severe drought hit in 1931, causing the over-plowed and over-grazed land to blow, starting the “black blizzards”. The “black blizzards” are known as the dust bowl.
The dust bowl lasted though out the 1930s, with the worst “black blizzard” being on April 14, 1935. These storms caused catastrophic damage killing crops, damaging ecosystems, displacing farmers, and had long lasting effects on agriculture. Nearly 75% of the topsoil was lost in the Great Plains due to this wind erosion. So, the need of soil conservation was developed from failures to protect our most valuable resources during the dust bowl-soil.
Soil Conservation/National Conservation Districts
In 1933 the Soil Erosion Service (SES) was created. The first Chief of the SES was Hugh Hammond Bennett who is known for being the “father of Soil Conservation”. The SES was a permanent agency in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help farmers protect soil and to provide technical assistance. The SES is now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), this change came in 1994.
After the SES was established, the USDA wanted to find other was to extend conservation assistance to farmers. In 1935 the solution was to create local levels of conservation planning. These groups would be democratically organized soil conservation districts and could make decisions on a local level by local people. On August 4, 1937, the first Conservation District formed in North Carolina and was called, Brown Creek Soil and Water Conservation District. All 48 states passed a district-enabling act by July 1, 1945.
On July 25, 1946, in Chicago at the Morrison Hotel the National Association of Soil Conservation District Governing Officials (NACD) was created. This meeting had 18 representatives from 17 states in attendances. The first executive officer was Ellen Cobb who was an SES employee from South Carolina. NACD today represents nearly 3,000 districts. These districts are in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the US territories.
Michigan Conservation Districts
In 1937 the Michigan Soil Conservation Districts Law passed as Act 297 by Michigan legislature. The West Ottawa Soil Conservation District was the first district in Michigan in 1937. Today there are 75 Conservation Districts across Michigan helping to provide local natural resource management. The Michigan Association of Conservation District (MACD) was established on December 9, 1940, with a mission to help strengthen these Conservation Districts. The MACD has 6 core natural resources it represent and protects. These include water, soil, forests, wildlife, farms, and dunes. They help these unique local units of government through leadership, information, and representation at the state level. They also provide outreach, advocacy, and educational programming. The Conservation District themselves use state, federal, and private sector resources to provide services to their districts.
Local Districts Include
-Benzie Conservation District
-Grand Traverse Conservation District
-Kalkaska Conservation District
-Mason-Lake Conservation District
-Mecosta/Osceola Lake Conservation District
-Missaukee Conservation District
-Wexford Conservation District
Wexford Conservation District
Wexford Soil Conservation District was established on July 23, 1945. When the application presented to the Secretary of State of the State of Michigan, by directors Frank Brehm and Charles Gotthard, was signed into law. This was after 70 people attended a hearing at the Wexford County Courthouse, on April 5, 1945, regarding the formation of the soil conservation district in Wexford County. Farmers Eldon Benson, Carter Stroud, Charles Smith, Robert Stocking, Frank Stoddard, and Sidney Hodgson gave testimony on why the soil conservation district was needed in Wexford. The vote was unanimous in favor of organizing a conservation district.
In the 1940s through the 1970s soil erosion was the main emphasis of the Conservation District. To help the stop of washing and blowing away of soil of farm fields, practices such as cover cropping contour plowing, and windbreaks were encouraged. Farmland that was less productive was converted back to forest by the planting of millions of trees.
Then in the 1980s the mission of the District expended to include stewardship of other natural resources, such as water, forest land, and wildlife. There was also a focus on recycling and the wise use of agricultural chemicals. This resulted in a name change to the Wexford Conservation District.
Today our mission is to enable the citizen of Wexford County to be stewards of their natural resources. By providing services such as tree sales, plant sales, workshops, and the Michigan Forestry Assistance Program (FAP). We also partner and work with USDA-NRCS, Missaukee Conservation District, and the North Country Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (NCCISMA).