Across the United States, nearly 3,000 Conservation Districts—almost one in every county—work directly with landowners to conserve and promote healthy soils, water, forests and wildlife. Nationally Conservation Districts go by different names— “soil conservation districts”, “soil and water conservation districts,” “resource conservation districts,” “natural resource districts” and “land conservation committees”— but they all share the same mission:
To coordinate assistance from all available sources—public and private, local, state and federal—to develop locally-driven solutions to natural resources concerns.
Idaho has 50 locally led Conservation Districts. Nationally, Conservation Districts are represented by the nonprofit National Association of Conservation Districts. At the state-level, its nonprofit counterpart is the Idaho Association of Soil Conservation Districts (IASCD). The IASCD seeks to serve as a unified voice for Idaho’s 50 Conservation Districts.
In Idaho, as defined in law (Chapter 27, Title 22, Idaho Code), a Conservation District is a governmental subdivision of the state and a public body corporate and politic. Each District is composed of a governing body (a “District Board”) consisting of either five (5) or seven (7) Supervisors. District Supervisors are not simply interested residents, farmers, and ranchers forming a social group. They are locally-elected officials who must understand 1) the powers, authorities, and responsibilities of Conservation Districts as governmental subdivisions of the state, and 2) the powers, authorities, and responsibilities of district supervisors (i.e. elected public officials).
It’s the duty of each individual Supervisor to comply with the statutes and rules governing public officials and to understand and properly execute the authorities of Conservation Districts. They must comply with much more than simply the statutes defined in the Soil Conservation District Law. Districts and Supervisors must also comply with state and federal laws relating to elections, ethics, open meetings, public records, public officers, and public funds. <emphasis added>
District Board Powers Under Idaho Code Title 22, Chapter 27
- To conduct surveys, investigations, and research relating to soil erosion, floodwater and sediment damages
- To publish the results of surveys, investigations, or research
- To conduct demonstrational projects for soil erosion and flood prevention, and soil and water conservation
- To carry out preventive measures for flood prevention or the conservation, development, utilization, and disposal of water
- To enter into agreements to provide financial or other aid to agencies, governmental or otherwise, or any landowners within the district to carry out erosion control, flood prevention, and water conservation operations
- To acquire property or rights or interests therein
- To receive income from properties
- To sell, lease, or otherwise dispose of any of its property or interests therein to carry out authorized activities and provisions in soil conservation district law
- To make agricultural and engineering equipment available to landowners within the district for the conservation of soil resources and for flood prevention or the conservation, development,
utilization, and disposal of water
- To construct, improve, operate and maintain structures necessary for the performance of soil and water conservation activities and operations
- To develop detailed, district-wide comprehensive plans for the conservation of soil and water resources
- To publish comprehensive plans and information and bring them to the attention of landowners and operators within the district
- To take over, administer, or manage any soil conservation, flood prevention, erosion control, or erosion prevention project undertaken by the United States or any of its agencies, or by the state of Idaho or any of its agencies
- To accept contributions in money, services, materials, or otherwise from state or federal agencies, and use or expend such moneys, services, materials, or other contributions in carrying on district operations
- To receive tax-deductible charitable contributions, donations, or gifts from private individuals and organizations for exclusively public purposes
- To sue and be sued in the name of the district
- To make and execute contracts to carry out district duties and powers
- To make, amend, and repeal rules to carry into effect the purposes and powers set forth in soil conservation district law
- To require and accept contributions (moneys, services, materials, or otherwise) for conservation services provided to landowners on lands within a conservation district
Conservation Districts and Supervisors also have the ability to execute other powers including, but not limited to: initiating the consolidation of two or more existing districts, hiring and employing staff, and requesting funding to use for any purpose authorized by law. In addition, Conservation Districts may contract for legal services with the Office of the Attorney General or with other counsel.
In addition to serving as coordinators for conservation in the field, Districts:
- Implement farm, ranch and forestland conservation practices to protect soil productivity, water quality and quantity, air quality and wildlife habitat;
- Conserve and restore wetlands, which purify water and provide habitat for birds, fish and other animals;
- Protect groundwater resources;
- Assist communities and homeowners in planting trees and other land cover to hold soil in place, clean the air, provide cover for wildlife, and beautify neighborhoods;
- Help developers control soil erosion and protect water and air quality during construction; and
- Reach out to communities and schools to teach the value of natural resources and encourage conservation efforts.
In FY 2021, the majority of Idaho Conservation Districts signed a Partnership MOU with NRCS and the Commission – relative only to the implementation of USDA Farm Bill programs <emphasis added> – agreeing to:
- Adhere to Federal, State, Local, and Tribal laws and regulations.
- Adopt NRCS policies and procedures, including the NRCS Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG), and other science-based technical standards.
- Leverage and promote use of USDA technologies and applications, as appropriate.
- Assign conservation practice job approval authority to its personnel based on employee knowledge, skill, and ability level, and within applicable laws and guidelines. Obtain NRCS concurrence for job approval for practices involving USDA authorities or programs.
- Participate in local, state, and national opportunities for policy, program, and project development.
- Assist NRCS in promoting USDA programs by participating in outreach and community education activities.
- Advocate for a strong natural resource conservation program by keeping appropriate boards, landowners, legislators, county commissioners, and other key stakeholders apprised of conservation activities within the district.
- Assemble and chair the USDA local working group, as chartered under the State Technical Committee and authorized by 7 CFR 610, Part C, to encourage public participation.
- Encourage diverse participation in local working groups through community outreach and education, to include stakeholders from historically underserved community.
- Open local working group meetings to the public and advertise notification of meetings in one or more newspapers, including Tribal publications.
- Develop the agenda and associated materials/information for local working groups and distribute at least 14 calendar days prior to the meeting.
- Develop and file local working group meeting records within 30 calendar days of the meetings at the local NRCS office.
- Adhere to local working group responsibilities and standard operating procedures, as documented in NRCS policy (Title 440, Conservation Programs Manual).
- Develop the conservation needs assessment through broad-based community participation and in accordance with NRCS policy and procedures. This will provide a comprehensive evaluation of the district’s natural resource base and be the basis for making decisions about local priorities or policies in all local conservation programs.
- Recommend local natural resource priorities and criteria for NRCS conservation activities and programs based on the conservation needs assessment and public input.
- Develop a District Long-Range Plan every three (3) years(Five Year Plan) and an Annual Plan of Work each year, or as specified in state statute. These documents must incorporate local and community inputs.
- Identify NRCS program resources, develop and implement conservation plans and natural resource systems, and evaluate/measure the technical and community impacts of solutions.
- Update NRCS on activities of local and state advisory committees and community groups attended by Conservation District board members and staff.
- Cooperate and collaborate across conservation districts, as appropriate and as permitted by state statute.
- Avoid disclosure of information about planning, financial, technical, and other assistance provided to landowners under the Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552) and only use such information to assist in providing such assistance.
For more information on District Roles and Responsibilities see the Idaho Conservation District Supervisor Handbook.