Over sixty years ago, when dust clouds from the Great Plains darkened the Eastern skies, our nation was in peril (see above left photo). Today, our land is in far different shape than it was in 1935, thanks to an ongoing conservation partnership that helps local land owners with solutions to their natural resource problems.
The Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District was formed on August 15, 1940 to help heal the scars to the land from the turbulent 1930s. The district charter was granted under a 1938 state conservation district law proposed to the nation’s governors by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. H.T. Ratliff of Pocahontas and George Morgan of Terry were the first commissioners appointed to the official board. Since then, several conservation leaders have been appointed or elected to three-year terms of office on the five-member local board.
The first conservation work carried out by Hinds County landowners in cooperation with the district centered on healing the gullies and preventing additional soil erosion on valuable cropland (see above center and right photos). Today, the conservation districts conduct a variety of activities ranging from tree planting to environmental education in schools.
During the 1950s and 1960s, there were modifications to state laws governing conservation districts that allowed districts to expand their services to meet emerging resource needs. This increase in responsibility caused district officials to assume a greater leadership role in resource use and development in their communities.
In the 1985 farm bill, society asked for conservation of soils and wetlands in exchange for access to farm program benefits. Farmers, in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and local conservation districts, responded with what has been called the greatest conservation effort in American history. Since 1985, farmers have cut soil erosion on cropland by one-third and drastically reduced wetland losses due to agriculture.
Volunteer district officials, who number about 16,000 nationwide, direct the activities of nearly 7,000 district employees. They also work closely with more than 6,000 field employees of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, plus many other government agency and private business partners. Districts are responsible for directing the expenditure of nearly a billion dollars in funds from federal, state and local sources.