Following the devastation of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt recommended the Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Act be signed into law by all state governors. This act gave states a step-by-step guide to create conservation districts and listing their powers and responsibilities. The first conservation district, Brown Creek Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), was established in North Carolina on August 4, 1937. Arkansas became the first state to enact legislation regarding conservation districts. By July 1, 1945, all 48 states had passed district-enabling acts.
Conservation districts grew stronger during the 1940s thanks in part to the transfer of heavy-duty WWII military equipment to peacetime uses in protecting and developing soil and water resources. In January 1946, district representatives met in Washington, D.C., to support surplus equipment transfer legislation. The failure of this legislative effort was a clear indication that district officials needed to band together to speak with one, unified voice.
On July 25, 1946 at the Statler Hotel in Chicago, 18 representatives from 17 states created the National Association of Soil Conservation District Governing Officials. NACD’s first executive officer was a woman named Ellen Cobb. She was an SCS employee in South Carolina who served as executive secretary from 1946-48, and is pictured in the photo below.
“One of the best, and certainly the most promising, of the devices yet invented by man for dealing democratically and effectively with maladjustment in land use, as well as for carrying forward positive programs of desirable conservation, and for maintaining the work, is the soil conservation district.” – Hugh Hammond Bennett
Lloyd Arbuckle – Morocco, Ind.
Everett M. Barr – Liberty, Neb.
William A. Benitt – Hastings, Minn.
R.M. Boswell – Kenedy, Texas
Walter Burrall – New Market, Md.
P.G. Compton – Demopolis, Ala.
Ruel D. Conley – Ringgold, La.
Allen Craig – Springfield, Ohio
Dennis F. Getchell – Limstone, Maine
Walter A. Groom – Grand Junction, Colo.
Frank R. Gyberg – Cornville, Ariz.
R. Lester Hill – Caro, Mich.
W. Max Hodgson, Sr. – Bay Minette, Ala.
E.C. McArthur – Gaffney, S.C.
Daniel T. Paugh – Philippi, W.V.
Fred A. Prell – Bremen, Kan.
Robert L. Rutter, Jr. – Ellensburg, Wash.
August Threlkeld – Corinth, Ky.
The first annual meeting was held in February 1947 in Chicago, where 42 of 48 states were represented. In 1970, during the annual convention in San Francisco, the association’s name was shortened to the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD).
Now, conservation districts have a more powerful national voice than ever. NACD represents nearly 3,000 districts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
NACD and its member districts have adapted and overcome challenges including emerging technology, district structure, natural resource concerns and changing legislation. Together, NACD and conservation districts have continued developing long-term goals focused on locally-led, voluntary conservation, providing leadership in communities and on Capitol Hill.
NACD is the unified voice for conservation districts through grassroots advocacy, educating future generations, improving district capacity, providing networking opportunities and leadership training, and supporting outreach to underserved communities.