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History of Conservation Districts

Districts were organized and created by federal law in 1937 in response to devastating soil erosion conditions that existed in the United States during the late 1920s and 1930s. In 1929, the United States Congress appropriated about $160,000 for erosion control experiments. The work of research centers established with these funds expanded as the economic disaster of the Dust Bowl in the Midwest became a cause for national concern.

The Soil Erosion Service (SES) of the U.S. Department of the Interior was created as a temporary organization in 1933. Its purpose was to demonstrate the values of soil and water conservation by placing conservation measures on farms in cooperation with landowners. In addition, the federally created Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was assigned to aid in erosion control work across the country. Two years later, in 1935, Congress established a federal policy concerning soil conservation. By an Act of Congress on April 27, 1935, the personnel and resources of the Soil Erosion Service were transferred to the Soil Conservation Service as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This was the first step in creating a local voluntary system around a core of federal expertise and support. On February 27, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a letter to all state governors recommending enactment of soil conservation district legislation.

The proposed act suggested that districts be established to direct and manage soil erosion control programs using local citizens participating voluntarily in planning and installing conservation practices. Each district so designated would be empowered to determine local needs, would have personal contact with local individual landowners within the community, and would thus be able to encourage maximum cooperation on a voluntary basis.

The first soil conservation district in the United States was organized on August 4, 1937 in North Carolina by Hugh Hammond Bennett (sometimes called the father of the conservation movement). Kent County became the first soil conservation district formed in Maryland on May 11, 1938. Today, all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have passed enabling legislation necessary for the creation of approximately 3,000 local districts.

Maryland’s enabling act was passed in 1937 and the 24 districts would then follow by being organized. The Montgomery Soil Conservation District was formally established on August 7, 1945.

The first meeting of the Montgomery Soil Conservation District Board of Supervisors was on April 29, 1946. The meeting as held at the County’s Agricultural Office in Rockville, Maryland, where the first order of business was to establish the Chairman, Vice Chairman, and Treasurer among the duly appointed Board of Supervisors through an election of officers.

The first Board of Supervisors were:

  • Eugene S. Walker, Chairman

  • Thomas. M. Garrett, Vice Chairman

  • J. Raymond Kemp, SSCC appointee

  • George Lechlider, Treasurer

  • James King, SSCC appointee

  • O. W. Anderson, County Agricultural Agent, Secretary

Others who attended the first meeting:

  • Marion B. Fussel, Area Supervisor for SCS

  • John Rigo, SCD

The second order of business was a discussion of conservation equipment needs of the District. It was discussed that the State Committee could purchase “Martin” Graders which would be suitable for a considerable portion of District work and there was a track record of success by Districts already using this equipment.The first act of the Board was to pursue the purchase of this equipment through the State Committee.

The First Five Years Priorities:

  • Securing important Equipment: Martin ditcher and securing a tractor to pull it as well as equipment available through SCS, a carryall for pond construction.

  • Irrigation: Streams that had capacity to pump 500 gallons per minute, damming streams to impound water as a reservoir, or construction of new ponds.

  • The movement of soil and how to conserve it associated with pond projects.

  • Reestablishing productive fields abandoned for scrub/shrub removal.

  • The need for a mounted “wood” saw would been helpful in clearing these areas.

  • A MOU was executed by the Maryland Game and Inland Fisheries Commission to partner with the Commission on establishing and maintaining wildlife including game fish on farms as well as agreement with the Soil Conservation Service (SCS).

  • Partnered with the Maryland Game and Inland Fisheries Commission on the Colesville School Game Refuge project. Toured by the State Committee on January 20, 1948.

  • Erosion control problems adjacent to the Suburban Sanitary Commission property at Brighton Dam, discussing partnering with Howard County to partially or completely eliminate the siltation in the reservoir.

  • Approval of Conservation Plans on Montgomery County Farms.

  • One of the first purchases approved by the Board in the minutes was for an expense of $2.00 to purchase 500 folders for keeping of office records.

  • The Board trailblazed diversity by recommending for a female appointment to the Natural Resources Committee presumably for the State Association.

  • Discussed use of dynamite for establishing on farm drainage ditches. Two demonstrations were held on the farms by Eugene Walker and James King.

  • Discussed less help on surveys as result of budget cuts.

  • Conservation Education: Board supported the purchase sets of conservation books for each County school as a means to furthering soil conservation through education.

  • Dues for both MASCD and NACD were $5.00.

  • Hugh Hammond Bennett, Ed Davis, SCS Director and a delegation from South Africa toured conservation in Montgomery County in 1948.

  • State Funding to the District 1949-1950 (FY) = $2,954.00

The Board discussed types of County agricultural and how they might fit into the overall conservation program mission. It was found that most of the “hilly land” was sown to permanent pasture and that the less “hilly land” be planted to permanent hay crops. Strip cropping was also discussed and recommended strip widths appropriate with whatever machinery was available on the farm.

The Martin ditcher was made available to farmers by the District for $2.50 per day.

J. Fred Hazen became the District’s first District Conservationist in 1947. In his first report to the Board of Supervisors on March 17, 1947, he highlighted the following workload items:

  • 94 Requests for assistance received

  • 34 Requests for ponds

  • 31 Surveys for conservation on farms

  • 160 acres of installed contour strips

  • 3 Ponds constructed, 3 more in the process

  • 6 Diversions

In 1947, the B & O Railroad Company sponsored a contest and would award suitable prizes for the most effective farm conservation work done in the various counties of Maryland for that year. Montgomery County’s nominee for this award was Mr. H. S. Kahle. The top award went to an 18-year-old boy from Garrett County. Mr. Kahle was presented with 4th place.


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