Conservation Legacy Reaches Back to 1935

April 27, 2010

DAVIS, Calif., April 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Today marks the 75th anniversary of a federal landmark in conservation. It was the beginning of a conservation commitment on private land as Congress established the Soil Conservation Service in the U. S. Department of Agriculture, known today as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). NRCS has expanded to become a conservation leader in comprehensive natural resource planning and protection on private lands, ensuring they are conserved, restored and made more resilient to environmental challenges.

Last year, Californians working with NRCS in the Golden State invested more than $150 million in a long list of conservation projects: building healthy soil; improving water quality; boosting irrigation efficiency on 100 billion gallons of water; reducing air emissions by the equivalent of removing 153,000 cars from the roads; clearing fire fuel and creating fuel breaks on 400 private forest parcels; building 57 miles of hedgerows and other types of habitat for plant and wildlife species on California’s farms and rangelands. Conservation easements on wetland and farmland, plant materials studies, and soil surveys are also in the NRCS mix of conservation activities.

“So much has changed since the early days primarily focused on soil erosion,” said Ed Burton, NRCS California State Conservationist and a 46-year veteran of the agency. “We have added a great deal of expertise and many partners to include conservation practices and programs for water, wetlands, air quality, wildlife, and energy. I guess it’s like John Muir told us when he said, ‘When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’”

And yet, says Burton, the core of the agency has remained amazingly constant. “It is still about planning and working with private landowners to do the right thing for the resources in a voluntary, science-based way.”

The agency was founded largely through the efforts of Hugh Hammond Bennett, a soil scientist and author of a 1928 pioneering work on the “Menace of Soil Erosion.” Bennett used science and showmanship to bring the scourge of soil erosion to national attention. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s proved a dramatic and decisive demonstration of his warnings. Fertile topsoil from as far away as Kansas blew into Washington, D.C. while Bennett stood before Congress asking for the creation of a national conservation agency.

In 1933, with Bennett at the helm, the Soil Erosion Service was formed in the Department of the Interior and transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service. Bennett continued as Chief of the Agency until his retirement in 1951. In 1994, SCS was renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The history of NRCS is a story of professional conservationists and private landowners working together to find solutions to “the erosion menace” and other resource problems. SCS began by overseeing Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps and conservation demonstration sites and making early soils maps and conservation services available to farmers and ranchers.

In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt encouraged all States to authorize the formation of local soil conservation districts – called Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs) in California – to work alongside the agency on local conservation priorities. In 1939, the San Mateo Resource Conservation District became the first established in California. Today, there are approximately 100 RCDs in California working on issues as diverse as conserving water to managing forest fuel loads to educating citizens and students to improving habitat for all kinds of plant, fish and wildlife species.

In 1985, for the first time the Farm Bill contained a conservation title. Since that time, Farm Bill programs have increasingly become part of the Agency’s set of goals and services. Since 1996, in California, NRCS and landowners have invested over $800,000,000 through Farm Bill working lands conservation programs.

“We’ve been at this for 75 years and we have every intention that in another 75, our legacy to our children and grandchildren will be a healthy and productive landscape,” concluded Burton.

To view and download Migrant Mother, Dorothea Lange’s iconic Depression-era photograph, taken in 1936 in Nipomo, Calif., and other historic photos, please visit http://www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/news/75/75_photos-1.html.

For more information about the 75th Anniversary, visit the California NRCS Web site at http://www.ca.nrcs.usda.gov/news/75/index.html.

SOURCE USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service

Source: newswire

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