The mission of the Sheridan County Conservation District is to protect Sheridan County's water and land quality through assistance programs, education, monitoring and planning.
The disastrous dust bowls of the 1930s, coupled with the depression, caused alarming public concern and forced the nation to think about its depleting natural resources. During the disaster, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established a soil erosion study, which provided 3 million unemployed men with work on American farms, forests and stream banks. By 1934, public attention focused on Hugh Hammond Bennet, Director of the Soil Erosion Service, as he reported the findings of the first national soil erosion survey. Bennet’s report calculated that over 50 million acres of crops were destroyed and 125 million acres of topsoil were lost. To control the erosion, Bennet requested the government establish a soil erosion organization.
The Soil Conservation Service (now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)) was formed in 1935 under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The NRCS was established to provide technical and financial assistance to individual landowners for application of conservation practice. To provide local coordination for conservation efforts, President Roosevelt developed a model Conservation District Law for consideration by State Governments. In 1939, federal legislation was passed enabling conservation districts to participate and intervene with government agencies under the premise that no Federal government agency should act in the area of private lands conservation without local citizen oversight. By February 1947, 114 districts from 32 states had conservation associations. As the local Districts were formed, the NRCS became technical advisor to assist the local District Boards with solid and informed decisions.
In 1941, the Wyoming legislature established laws for Conservation Districts. The Sheridan County Conservation District is one of 34 Conservation Districts in Wyoming, organized as a local subdivision of State Government under the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. In 1972, the Clear Water Conservation District was formed through a consolidation of the Dutch-Clear Creek, Cloud Peak, and Tongue River Districts. Due to confusion about District boundaries, the District was renamed the Sheridan County Conservation District (SCCD) in 1993.
Conservation Districts oversee a comprehensive program of natural resource conservation under the direction of a locally elected volunteer Board of Supervisors. The Board is comprised of five officials, serving staggered four-year terms. There are three rural, one urban, and one at-large position offering the District a wide range of representation. In addition, the Board can appoint Associate Supervisors to assist with programs and provide additional input and expertise. Board and Associate Supervisors are unpaid volunteers dedicated to providing local conservation guidance for the citizens of Sheridan County. A paid staff helps to implement the local conservation programs. SCCD receives the majority of its funding through grant monies. Financial support from Sheridan County, the Town of Ranchester, newsletter sponsorships, and membership donations are used as local match for federal and state grants. In order to provide adequate local conservation programs the District continues to strive for local funding support.
The function of the Conservation District is to focus and coordinate technical, educational, and financial resources to meet the needs of the local land user. One of the ways in which Districts accomplish this is through a unique partnership with the NRCS. The Conservation District coordinates the activities of the NRCS, along with other agencies and groups, in ways that will fit local needs. SCCD and the Sheridan NRCS field office work in the same office and share personnel, equipment, and supplies to deliver a strong, local conservation program. As the local Conservation Districts were formed, the NRCS became technical advisor to assist the local District Boards with solid and informed decisions.
SCCD plays a vital role in ensuring that conservation programs and technical and financial assistance are provided to Sheridan County residents. A team effort including SCCD, the NRCS, the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts (WACD), the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WY G&F), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ), and others has resulted in the establishment of a sound and effective conservation program for Sheridan County and its residents.
The Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act of 1977 expanded the role of Conservation Districts to provide studies and assistance to address not only soil erosion problems, but also an entire range of resource issues. In a survey conducted by the SCCD in 2001, over 60% of the respondents ranked water resource concerns in the top five. As a result, SCCD spends a large amount of time on these issues. The Tongue River and Goose Creek watershed efforts have identified water quality concerns on the watersheds and provided means for making improvements. SCCD facilitates local watershed planning efforts and administers a local cost-share assistance program for improvements to Animal Feeding Operations and septic systems, as well as work on streambank/channel restoration projects.
While the major part of the local program in Sheridan County consists of providing technical and financial assistance for water resource improvement projects, the SCCD/NRCS partnership recognizes that natural resource education is a necessary component of any conservation program. The greatest benefit from individual improvement projects will be a project’s ability to encourage more widespread, long-term improvements throughout Sheridan County. The Conservation District will strive to understand public concerns and respond according to those needs. The District understands that public needs can and do change over time. With continued support of Sheridan County residents, Conservation Districts can remain flexible and remain an active voice for the changing public need.