When representatives from 32 soil conservation districts met in Washington, D.C., in 1946 to organize a national association of conservation districts, over 1,600 soil conservation districts had already formed in 48 states.
The health of the land and the welfare of future generations was a commitment taken very seriously by early district officials. A report from Nolen J. Fuqua of Oklahoma (at that time a council member, who later served as the fourth president of National Association of Soil Conservation Districts) exemplifies that commitment:
“We reorganized into a state organization at the beginning of soil conservation work in 1937. This was due to government men who came down telling us what we needed to do to serve as supervisors. We thought organization would help us and we voted unanimously last week to associate ourselves with the National Association.
Four of every five acres in Oklahoma farms and ranches are now being damaged by soil erosion, or have lost some of the precious topsoil before soil conservation treatment was applied. Less than 5,000,000 acres of farmlands have suffered no erosion damages, but more than three-fourths of the topsoil has been lost from 8,543,000 acres.
Farmers and ranchers, with the help of Soil Conservation Service technicians, have developed 34,000 coordinated conservation plans. These plans provide for sound land use, the proper combination of conservation practices, improvement of soil productivity, and an economical system of farming whereby man can not only save soil, but improve it and at the same time, increase his financial return from the land.
Oklahoma has made the most outstanding record in the United States in seeding land removed from cultivation to native grasses. Almost a half-million acres have been seeded under the Soil Conservation Districts’ program. However, there is a big conservation job yet to be done.”
Conservation districts set out to create a national organization in 1946 so that they could deliver a unified message to policy makers on conservation-related issues and better coordinate district activities on a countrywide scale. Today we continue to reap the benefits of the conservation legacy our early district leaders left to us.
As we look to the future, it is critical that conservation districts continue to have a national, unified voice. In the words of R. Neil Sampson, author of For Love of the Land: A History of the National Association of Conservation Districts: “the accomplishments of the first half-century are impressive, but the challenges ahead seem equally awesome.”
Sampson believed the greatest challenge to the implementation of conservation was “moving people to constructive action.” Surmounting that challenge, he said, would depend on the recognition of the “potential that lies in the dedication, commitment and skill of those who love the land—the people of the soil conservation districts.”
NACD’s purpose and mission is to provide that recognition of conservation districts; to promote their stories, to support their initiatives, and to be their voice—the voice of conservation.