Montana Conservation Districts
• Organized in the 1930's as a response to the severe erosion problems of the "Dust Bowl" days.
• Montana's 58 conservation districts are political subdivisions of the state, governed by a board of five elected supervisors.
• Funding for the operation and conservation activities of each district comes from a maximum of 1.5 mills levied on real property within the boundaries of the district.
• Conservation districts help citizens conserve their soil, water, and other renewable natural resources.
What Do the Conservation Districts Do?
The 310 Law
The Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act, also known as "The 310 Law", is administered by the Conservation Districts.
• Any individual or corporation proposing construction in a perennial stream, must apply for a 310 permit through the local conservation district. Although joint applications are used by the districts and agencies (agency involvement varies from project to project), the district and agencies must all issue individual permits.
• A district supervisor and representatives from the appropriate agencies inspect the site to make sure the integrity of the stream is maintained.
• 310 permits are then approved based on the inspection and the scope of the project.
• Are the local contact for the control of non-point source (NPS) pollution.
• Conduct projects demonstrating NPS pollution control practices.
• Prefer voluntary, education, and incentive-based approaches to regulatory approaches.
• Work with state and federal agencies to identify problem areas and prioritize treatment.
Riparian and wetland areas are vitally important parts of the landscape. Good management of these areas is critical to a healthy environment. In order to do this, districts:
• Sponsor stream restoration projects;
• Conduct landowner workshops;
• Produce and distribute educational materials; and,
• Hold demonstrations and tours of riparian management techniques and projects.
Federal Conservation Programs
Conservation districts work very closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) to provide local direction for the administration of federal conservation programs. Some of these programs are:
• The Conservation Reserve Program;
• The Wetlands Reserve Program;
• The Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program; and,
• The Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
With the rapid increase in subdivided acreages, and the resource issues associated with these small tracts, districts have recently taken on a new role. Below are some examples:
• Hosting workshops and producing educational materials for new landowners;
• Operating recycling programs; and,
• Pooling of technical expertise from various agencies to provide services like soil surveys and water disposal information to planning commissioners, municipal officers, and others.
Resource Conservation and Development
Conservation district supervisors have joined with private individuals and local, state, and federal government to initiate community-led rural development efforts. Seven of these Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Areas now operate in Montana, encompassing 51 of the state's 56 counties.
Districts work with schools to develop conservation education curricula and outdoor classrooms by:
• Coordinating technical and financial assistance and provide teaching aids; and,
• Sponsoring kids' conservation field days and annual camps. Some of these include:
- Natural Resource Youth Camp;
- Montana Youth Range Camp;
- Montana Range Days: and,
- Montana Envirothon
Conservation districts in Montana are able to reserve water for future beneficial use. Currently, 31 conservation districts hold water reservations throughout the Yellowstone, Little Missouri, and Missouri River basins. Each of these districts administers its reservation for use by individuals within the district. Applications for reserved water use can be obtained from the applicable conservation district.
In order to promote conservation practices, districts demonstrate and rent out a wide array of equipment to land users, including:
• Tree Planters;
• Fabric Layers;
• Weed Sprayers;
• Weed Badgers;
• Conservation Tillage Drills;
• Grass Seeders; and,
• Tree Chippers
Saline Seep Reclamation
Conservation district supervisors in 33 counties make up the membership of the Montana Salinity Control Association. This internationally recognized organization headquartered in Conrad, Montana provides expert technical assistance in the reclamation and control of saline seeps in agricultural areas. What is a saline seep? You may have seen white, powdery-looking spots in the low areas of fields. These spots are seeps, and they have adverse effects on water quality, wildlife, and other resources, not to mention agricultural production.
• Locally led groups tackling local and regional natural resource management issues on a river basin or watershed basis.
• Districts are often instrumental on drawing people and resources together to assist the development of these groups.
Conservation Districts' History and Origins
In the early 1930's, along with the greatest depression this nation ever experienced, came an equally unparalleled ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl. Following a severe and sustained drought in the Great Plains, the region's soil began to erode and blow away, creating huge black dust storms that blotted out the sun and swallowed the countryside. The storms stretched across the nation, south to Texas and east to New York. Dust even sifted into the White House and onto the desk of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
On Capitol Hill, while testifying about the erosion problem, soil scientist Hugh Hammond Bennett threw back the curtains to reveal a sky blackened by dust. Congress unanimously passed legislation declaring soil and water conservation a national policy and priority. Since about three-fourths of the continental United States is privately owned, Congress realized that only active, voluntary support from landowners would guarantee the success of conservation work on private land. In 1937, President Roosevelt wrote the governors of all the states recommending legislation that would allow local landowners to form soil conservation districts.
Conservation districts are political subdivisions of the state of Montana, governed by a board of elected supervisors. Funding for the operation and conservation activities of each district comes from a maximum of 1.5 mills levied on real property within the boundaries of the district. The annual conservation district budget this millage produces varies from $2,500 in less populated counties to $100,000 in counties with a greater population base. In most cases, funding is inadequate to meet the goals of districts, so they rely heavily on grants and other creative funding sources.
Across the state, 58 conservation districts - one in every county - are helping local people match their interests and needs with the technical and financial resources necessary to put conservation practices on the land. For more information, contact the Montana Association of Conservation Districts, Helena, MT.
Montana's Districts Work Closely With...
Montana Association of Conservation Districts
The Montana Association of Conservation District (MACD), created in 1942, is the conservation districts' private, nonprofit association. Governed by a statewide board of district supervisors, MACD:
• Serves as a collective voice for policy and legislation that affects conservation districts;
• Works with state agencies and the legislature to help direct natural resource policy;
• Works with the National Association of Conservation Districts, federal agencies, and Congress to help direct natural resource policy on a federal level; and,
• Is an information clearinghouse for and between the districts and raises public awareness of the districts activities.
Conservation and Resource Development Division
The Conservation and Resource Development Division (CARDD) in the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has duties specifically established in state statute to:
• Assist supervisors in carrying out their authorities and programs;
• Facilitate an interchange of information, activities, and cooperation between districts;
• Administer financial assistance programs for districts; and,
• Provide a link to the state government essential to the continued successful operations of districts.