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History of Soil & Water Conservation Districts

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History of the Chatham SWCD

Soil and Water Conservation Districts and their governing Boards of Supervisors were formed nationwide, based on enabling legislation from Congress that grew out of the devastating Dust Bowl and other critical conservation problems of the 1930s. This enabling legislation granted individual states the right to form Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett, a North Carolina native from Anson County, was instrumental in coordinating national efforts toward solving the critical conservation problems that the country faced. Dr. Bennett can be credited with those soil and water conservation programs around the nation today.

On May 13, 1936 the USDA published and released a Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Law to serve as a guide to the states in passing conservation district laws. By June 30, 1936 eighteen states had enacted similar district legislation. Many followers joined Bennett's campaign until they finally received help from the White House to pass national legislation. 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. Nearly four-fifths of the states enacted similar laws in the next three years. By 1947 all of the other states and the territories of Hawaii and Alaska had passed similar legislation. [1]

The NC General Assembly passed the NC Soil Conservation District Law on March 22, 1937. This law provided procedure for NC Citizens to organize a Soil Conservation District and to determine the boundaries of the district. The established district once established was a subdivision of the state and governed by a five-member board of district supervisors. Three supervisors elected by citizens and two appointed by a state board, each position having four-year terms. These supervisors are charged with the conservation of all natural resources within the district boundaries.

October 6, 1939 – the NC Secretary of State chartered Haw River Conservation District. This district comprised the all lands within Guilford and Alamance Counties.

December 17, 1940 the Soil Conservation Committee (now known as the Soil & Water Conservation Commission) via petition of landowners expanded the Haw River C.D. to include Chatham County.

Shortly thereafter the district had Randolph County added to its boundaries.

September 1, 1960 the supervisors met in Burlington, NC and voted to dissolve the Haw River Soil Conservation District and to set-up four separate conservation districts.

October 14, 1960 the NC Soil Conservation Committee approved the division of the Haw River Conservation District into the four separate county conservation Districts, including the Chatham Soil Conservation District.

The Secretary of State, Thad Eure issued a charter to form the Chatham County Soil Conservation District on December 19, 1962. The district developed it’s first long range program during late 1961 and early 1962. By this time soil conservation districts had been renamed by state law as Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

March 9, 1966 the boundaries of the Chatham Soil & Water Conservation District was changed to read “all the lands within the County of Chatham,” to include all municipalities and other levels of government, both state and federal.

The principle objective of the soil and water conservation district was and continues to be conserving and improving natural resources within the boundaries of the district including; soil, water, air, wildlife and forest. This objective is pursued through the five-member board and employees along with other resources that are provided by: Chatham County, the State of NC through the NC DENR - NC Division of Soil & Water Conservation and the Federal Government through the USDA - Natural Resources Conservation Service. In addition grants and donations are secured to enhance the technical and educational programs of the district. Service has and continues to be offered to; land owners, land users, adults, school age children, units of government and other organizations.

The conservation office staff page can be found here.

Numerous individuals have served on the Chatham District board including:

J. B. Ingel
Wren O. Brewer
Clifton W. Jenkins
Graham Rogers
Paul McCoy
James Lindley
James H. Diggs
Wade H. Paschal
Earl F. Parker
Willis Wren
Dewey Poe
Jessee O. Fearrington
Victor Aldridge
Chuck Miller
Tommy Emerson 
Dallas Hurley
John Etchison
Renee Montague
*Edward McLaurin
*Lynn Mann
*Johnny Glosson
*Keith Stanley
*Rich Hayes 

* Current board members as of December 2012

[1] “Soil Conservation Service” By H. Harper Simms

History of State/Federal SWCD Programs

Soil and Water Conservation Districts and their governing Boards of Supervisors were formed nationwide, based on enabling legislation from Congress that grew out of the devastating Dust Bowl and other critical conservation problems of the 1930s. This enabling legislation granted individual states the right to form Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett, a North Carolina native from Anson County, was instrumental in coordinating national efforts toward solving the critical conservation problems that the country faced. Dr. Bennett can be credited with those soil and water conservation programs around the nation today.

On May 13, 1936 the USDA published and released a Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Law to serve as a guide to the states in passing conservation district laws. By June 30, 1936 eighteen states had enacted similar district legislation. Many followers joined Bennett's campaign until they finally received help from the White House to pass national legislation. 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. Nearly four-fifths of the states enacted similar laws in the next three years. By 1947 all of the other states and the territories of Hawaii and Alaska had passed similar legislation.

Under this law, North Carolina General Statute 139, Soil and Water Conservation Districts are organized to plan and carry out a conservation program that the local people need and want. District affairs are managed by individuals and groups involved in a coordinated conservation program, including resources from local, state and federal agencies. This way, governmental assistance in conservation practices remains under local control. It was felt that local people, rather than the Federal Government, could better manage their own resources through a Soil and Water Conservation District.

At first, Districts followed watershed boundaries rather than county boundaries as many are established today, which means that some districts included more than one county or parts of counties in the early days. The Standard Law did not provide any guidelines for establishing district boundaries. USDA leaders generally favored watershed boundaries for districts while most of the state laws were based on county boundaries. Many of the state laws that were established on a watershed basis were later changed to a county basis. Today most districts are county wide districts.*

Since 1937, this type of self-government has contributed greatly to the protection, improvement, and use of land and water resources with positive changes seen in farm income, family well-being, and stabilization of local communities.

* "The Soil Conservation Service" by H. Harper Simms

What is a Soil and Water Conservation District?

A Soil and Water Conservation District is a "governmental subdivision of this State, a public body corporate and politic, organized under the provisions of Chapter 139 of the General Statutes of the State of North Carolina, entitled Soil and Water Conservation Districts Law of North Carolina and is subject to the powers and restrictions set forth in NCGS 139."

Districts are the only level of government responsible for coordinating and carrying out a local natural resources conservation program. Through these Districts, farmers and other land users, institutions, and groups in the community can manage their own conservation programs. They are set up based on these guidelines:

  1. Legal subdivisions of state government, corporate and politic, with certificates of organization issued by the Secretary of State.
  2. Organized and operated under state law, NCGS 139.
  3. Organized by a vote of the people in the District to work for the conservation of soil, water, and other natural resources.
  4. Managed by Boards of Supervisors, a majority of whom are elected by the people in the District.
  5. Assisted by various federal and state agencies, organizations, and individuals.

Districts are responsible for local involvement with the Agriculture Cost Share Program for Non-point Source Pollution Control and especially in controlling sediment, nutrients, animal wastes, and pesticides. Districts look for opportunities to involve conservation education as part of professional education--including reaching teachers, administrators, churches, media, civic clubs, and Scouts.

Each district board of supervisors will usually hold regular monthly meetings as needed to keep district affairs current. All district board meetings are open to the public.

District Cooperators

Land users seeking help from the local Soil and Water Conservation District may receive available assistance by becoming what is known as a District Cooperator. These land users are individuals or groups who show a genuine interest in carrying out a program of conservation on their property.

The process is simple for the land user to become a District Cooperator. The land user and District Board of Supervisors enter into a nonbinding, written agreement. This agreement allows the District staff and/or Natural Resources Conservation Service to plan and assist a land user in carrying out conservation programs tailored to his or her needs and the best use of the land.