By Sara Kangas
Since 1910, Boy Scouts of America – which consists of Cub Scouts (grades K-5); Boy Scouts (beginning at age 10 or who have completed fifth grade) and Venturing (ages 14-21) – has overseen programs for millions of children, training them in responsible citizenship, character development and self-reliance.
As part of the tradition of scouting, scouts must earn at least 21 merit badges to reach the highest rank, Eagle Scout. Merit badges are earned by demonstrating sufficient skill and knowledge, ranging in topics from first aid, cooking and emergency services to bugling, dentistry and stamp collecting. In all, there are more than 100 merit badges recognized by the Boy Scouts of America. But did you know there’s a soil and water conservation merit badge?
The Soil and Water Conservation Merit Badge was introduced in 1952 to increase awareness about individuals’ role in and knowledge of conservation.
“We all have a duty to learn more about the natural resources on which our lives depend so that we can help make sure that these resources are used intelligently and cared for properly,” the merit badge pamphlet reads. “Conservation isn’t just the responsibility of soil and plant scientists, hydrologists, wildlife managers, landowners, and the forest or mine owner alone. It must be your duty, too.”
In the Soil and Water Conservation Merit Badge pamphlet, the Boy Scouts of America advise scouts to consult with their local conservation districts in identifying opportunities for implementing conservation projects and practices in their communities.
In March of 2019, the Harford Soil Conservation District (SCD) in Maryland went a step further, revitalizing a program to educate local scouts to help them achieve the requirements of the soil and water conservation merit badge. The district hosted three interactive merit badge sessions, educating a total of 17 scouts about the importance of soil and water quality.
“Scouts were asked to feel the texture of different soil sample types to detect sand, silt and clay particles,” Harford SCD Soil Conservation Technician Yvonne Roe said. “We had a watershed Runoff Model demonstration to show how sediment, nutrients and pollutants affect streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.”
“Another demonstration simulated the effects of heavy rainfall on vegetated cover versus bare soil, showing the differences in runoff and percolation from the two surfaces,” said Andrew League, Harford SCD Conservation Engineer Technician.
Located in Harford County, Md., the Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation comprises an area of 1,688 acres, providing a remote wilderness experience. Conservation easements with the Agricultural Preservation Program and the Federal Forest Legacy Program protect delineated natural areas.
“The Scout Reservation provides the perfect environment and opportunity to educate the Scouts’ youth about soil and water conservation,” Roe said.
To complete the requirements to earn the soil and water conservation merit badge, scouts must demonstrate knowledge about soil, erosion, watersheds and other conservation topics. In addition to descriptions, drawings and diagrams illustrating these practices, scouts are asked to do two of the following: write a report about conservation practices in their community; plant 100 trees, bushes and/or vines; seed an area of at least one-fifth of an acre for conservation purposes; study a soil survey report; make a list of erosion, sedimentation or pollution problems in the neighborhood and identify ways to mitigate them; or propose other sanctioned soil and water conservation projects. Supporting materials include information on conservation practices like cover crops, contouring, buffer strips, windbreaks and more.
Looking ahead, the district hopes to strengthen their relationship with the scout program, helping to accomplish their strategic plan goal “to develop a strong District Outreach program to connect with and educate the general public that includes the Ag and Non-Ag Community, adults and children.”