History of Soil Conservation Districts

Old Ag PicDistricts were organized and created by federal law in 1937 in response to devastating soil erosion conditions which existed in the United States during the late 1920s and 1930s.

In 1929, the United States Congress appropriated about $160,000 for erosion control experiments.  The work of research centers established with these funds expanded as the economic disaster of the Dust Bowl in the Midwest became a cause for national concern.

The Soil Erosion Service (SES) of the U.S. Department of the Interior was created as a temporary organization in 1933.  Its purpose was to demonstrate the values of soil and water conservation by placing conservation measures on farms in cooperation with landowners.  In addition, the federally-created Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was assigned to aid in erosion control work across the country.  Two years later, in 1935, Congress established a federal policy concerning soil conservation.

By Act of Congress on April 27, 1935, the personnel and resources of the Soil Erosion Service was transferred to the Soil Conservation Service as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  This was the first step in creating a local voluntary system around a core of federal expertise and support.  On February 27, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a letter to all state governors recommending enactment of soil conservation district legislation.

The proposed act suggested establishing districts to direct and manage soil erosion control programs using local citizens participating voluntarily in planning and installing conservation practices.  Each district so designated would be empowered to determine local needs, would have personal contact with local individual landowners within the community, and would this be able to encourage maximum cooperation on a voluntary basis.

The first soil conservation district is the United States was organized on August 4, 1937, in North Carolina by Hugh Hammond Bennett (sometimes called the father of the conservation movement).  The St. Mary’s Soil Conservation District was created on November 14, 1941. The legal charter was issued by the state of Maryland on January 5, 1942.