Thursday April 9, 1959 the St. Joseph County Soil & Water Conservation District was organized as a governmental subdivision of the state of Indiana by John R Walsh, Secretary of State of the State of Indiana.
All it takes is a Point of Light … We are all in this world together and by pooling our energies to protect and preserve our natural resources, today and in the future, each of us can be an inspiration, or a Point of Light. The responsibilities of Your St. Joseph County SWCD are extensive and far-reaching. Throughout the years, assistance has been provided to urban and rural dwellers alike.
Our services and programs aim to meet the unique resource needs of St. Joseph County, and include improving our soil and water resources, promoting and expanding wildlife and woodland areas, and continuing to provide innovative and quality educational programs to the community. We are inspired by the many Points of Light that we work with everyday, and strive to be Points of Light for others. All of us—the SWCD Board and Staff, other organizations, agencies, and/or groups, and you, the Landowner—need to keep working together to find mutually satisfactory solutions to some of the problems our natural resources are facing today. With the continued cooperation and support of concerned citizens like yourself who have what it takes to be a Point of Light, we will continue our efforts to meet—and exceed—the challenges of the resource conservation needs of St. Joseph County, just as we have done for the past 50 plus years.
Why we were created.
On April 27, 1935, a massive dust storm was making its way from the Great Plains towards the east coast. These “black blizzards” had become a common symbol of the Dust Bowl, brought on by decades of unsustainable farming practices that left the soils dry and exposed to the elements.
A bill was being debated in Congress to establish a permanent agency to help farmers heal the soils and rebuild their operations.
A soil scientist named Hugh Hammond Bennett was testifying at a Senate hearing on behalf of the bill in Washington, DC. His colleagues in the Midwest got word to him that the storm was coming and he thought its arrival could help sway those that may be on the fence about the agency. Bennett prolonged his testimony. He rambled on from the morning into the afternoon -- even as some senators fell asleep. Then finally, as he testified, the room darkened. The senators walked over to the window and watched as that dust storm from the Great Plains hit the nation’s capital, covering the streets and buildings in soil and dust.
The bill passed without a single dissenting vote and the Soil Conservation Service was established in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was April 27, 1935. Bennett was asked to lead the agency. He and his team immediately got started working with farmers on their lands to help them implement conservation systems to recover what had been lost. The Soil Conservation Service was later renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to reflect the expanded scope of the agency’s work. (Source: NRCS)
The Early Years (Source: USDA/NRCS)
For the most part the early agency (SCS) continued to promote soil conservation through demonstration projects as trained soil conservationists worked directly with farmers. The availability of labor and equipment greatly facilitated the adoption of these measures (Helms, D. (1985). "The civilian conservation corps: demonstrating the value of soil conservation," J. Soil and Water Cons. 40: 184-188.).
Meanwhile, M. L. (Milburn Lincoln) Wilson, assistant secretary of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and one of America's most innovative agricultural policy-makers, had been thinking about ways to spread soil conservation beyond the scattered demonstration projects, and to make it a force for agricultural reform. Several principles guided his thinking. Farmers had to feel that they had an active role in promoting soil conservation if they were to accept it as a goal and ultimately a regular part of their farming operations. Also, Wilson recognized that the acceptance of conservation in the demonstration projects rested partly on the fact that equipment, labor, and the assistance of trained soil conservationists were available to farmers. This kind of assistance was not available outside the demonstration projects. Belief in soil conservation was insufficient to spread adoption of conservation measures outside the projects. Wilson's dilemma was how to make farmers feel more involved and in control, and how to provide the assistance, not just on demonstration projects, but nationwide to bring soil conservation to all the Nation's farmlands (Glick, P. M. (1990). The Preparation of the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Law. Soil Conservation Service,. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.).
On February 27, 1937 President Franklin D. Roosevelt transmitted copies of his famous letter to forty-eight state governors urging each state to adopt legislation similar to the "model law" (which was the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Law), copy of which was enclosed, that would provide for the organization of local "soil conservation districts." That same year, the North Carolina General Assembly along with twenty-one other states passed the Soil and Water Conservation Districts Law, and the citizens of Anson County chartered the Brown Creek Soil and Water Conservation District on August 4, 1937. This District was the first Soil and Water Conservation District organized in the United States. (Source: Chatham County, North Carolina)
Organization of districts proceeded after state legislatures passed a law based on the "standard law." If the local people then voted for the district in a referendum, they elected directors and supervisors of the district. On Thursday April 9, 1959 the St Joseph County Soil & Water Conservation District was organized. Then the districts signed an agreement with USDA. The working relationship that has developed over the years is for the districts to sign agreements with individual farmers and ranchers. Then trained soil conservationists from the Soil Conservation Service field offices worked individually with them on conservation problems.
In a way the system of district and state cooperation with the federal government could produce a service that was greater than the sum of its parts. For instance, the Soil Conservation Service had the staff to develop standards for various conservation practices and modify them to fit the local area. But the state, county or districts could accelerate conservation by helping to pay for installing conservation practices or by hiring additional technical staff. In those states which chose to hire additional staff, one might walk into a field and find people paid by the federal government, the state, or the district. Yet all would be doing similar work, using similar methods.
The districts focused first on promoting soil conservation. But additional federal and state legislation continually altered and expanded their role. New federal legislation for flood control in the small upstream watersheds passed in 1954 brought involvement in watershed projects for flood control, drainage, recreation, municipal and industrial water supply, and other purposes. Districts had to adjust to be an effective force in a changed economy in the United States. While many districts remained predominantly rural, others saw small towns grow and suburbia spread onto farmlands with the accompanying problems of increased human activity and resource pressures. The information available from the Soil Conservation Service through districts, such as soils information, knowledge of flooding hazards, erosion control techniques, and a host of other information, could be valuable in helping guide residential and business development wisely. Counties might choose to require that development plans be reviewed by the districts for approval. Districts became leaders in the passage and enforcement of erosion and sediment control laws designed to reduce sedimentation from construction sites.
“If we are bold in our thinking, courageous in accepting new ideas, and willing to work with instead of against our land, we shall find in conservation farming an avenue to the greatest food production the world has ever known…”
Hugh Hammond Bennett
What Are SWCDs? (source: IASWCD)
SWCDs, or Districts, are local units of government that manage and direct natural resource management programs at the local level. Indiana has 92 Districts – one for each county. They work closely with other forms of local, regional, and state government, private nonprofits, and educational institutions to provide a high level of conservation service to private landowners. They work to promote the wise use, development, and conservation of our state’s soil, water, and related resources in ways that are relevant to their unique localities.
Districts fill a unique and crucial role in conservation and stewardship: that of providing soil and water conservation expertise and services to private landowners. Ninety-six percent of Indiana’s land is privately owned. Land use varies from agriculture, productive forests, bodies of water, and urban or industrial use. Regardless of ownership, all lands are interconnected. Responsible and wise management of these private lands is key to Hoosiers’ quality of life.
Indiana Districts are closely tied to their communities and are governed by a board of local representatives, called “Supervisors,” who value land stewardship, soil health, and water quality. They also rely on the enthusiasm and involvement of over 450 volunteer conservationists statewide. Hoosiers have trusted their local Districts for over 70 years.
SWCDs are subdivisions of state government under the Indiana State Department of Agriculture Division of Soil Conservation.
They receive funding from a variety of sources, primarily Clean Water Indiana. You can view the amount and sources of conservation funding in each Indiana county.
Districts in each county are led by a 5-member board of supervisors, 3 elected and 2 appointed positions. SWCDs determine and address natural resource needs in their counties. In this way, they work closely with local landowners and residents. You can get involved with your local District as a Supervisor, Associate Supervisor, or volunteer.
Indiana’s 92 SWCDs fund and provide leadership for IASWCD, their state association. Incorporated as a 501(c)3 in 1968, the IASWCD operates from Indianapolis. It provides legislative leadership, and fundraising, development, and training opportunities to its districts.