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Conservation legacy reaches back to 1935



April 27th marks the 75th anniversary of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Established by Congress in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service, NRCS has expanded to become a conservation leader for all natural resources, ensuring private lands are conserved, restored and more resilient to environmental challenges.

In Nevada, over 9 million acres of land are privately-owned, making stewardship by private landowners absolutely critical to the health of our environment,” said Bruce Petersen, state conservationist for the NRCS in Nevada.  “We work closely with private landowners as well as federal land managing agencies, Tribal governments, local and state agencies to make sure the land will be protected for another 75 years.”

To honor the Service’s legacy, Nevada Governor Jim Gibbons has proclaimed April as Soil and Water Conservation Month.  “Conservationists across our beautiful state work hand in hand with the citizens of Nevada to conserve natural resources and leave a better earth for our children and grandchildren,” Gibbons wrote.

The agency was founded largely through the efforts of Hugh Hammond Bennett, a soil conservation pioneer who had worked for the Department of Agriculture since the early 20th century. In 1933, the Soil Erosion Service was formed in the Department of the Interior, with Bennett as chief. The Service was transferred to the Department of Agriculture in 1935, and was shortly thereafter combined with other USDA units to form the Soil Conservation Service. Bennett continued as chief, a position he held until his retirement in 1951. In 1994, the agency was renamed to the Natural Resources Conservation Service as part of the Federal Crop Insurance Reform and Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994.

The history of the NRCS is a story of land and people.  NRCS draws on a tradition of principles in working with private landowners that is as relevant today as when it was a dream to Bennett. A career soil scientist with the US Department of Agriculture, Bennett became convinced that soil erosion was a national menace and that its solution lay in tailoring conservation practices to fit the land and the desires of landowners.  The Dust Bowl of 1935 helped Bennett prove his point to Congress.  Fertile topsoil from as far away as Kansas blew into Washington, D.C. while Bennett stood before Congress asking for the creation of a national conservation agency.

Bennett knew that simple solutions for all situations would be fruitless. The crops, the land and the climate were so diverse that specialists in agronomy, forestry, soil science, biology, engineering, and social sciences were called upon to help develop conservation methods. They worked with farmers to find solutions that benefited the land and fulfilled the landowners’ aspirations.

In 1933, the Service began working with farmers in the Coon Creek watershed of southwestern Wisconsin to transform the square, eroding fields into a showplace of conservation practices and wise land use that benefits the soil, air, water, as well as the plant, animal and human life of the whole watershed.

Formation of the first conservation district, bounded by the Brown Creek watershed in North Carolina, on August 4, 1937, established a method for the SCS to assist farmers in the conservation districts. Locally elected citizens established priorities and plans for the district’s work.

Today, 28 conservation districts cover the state of Nevada, providing local input on resource concerns and challenges.  District supervisors help set local priorities for Farm Bill funding, coordinate tours and local work group meetings, and share the latest technology with fellow landowners.

“We’ve been at this for 75 years and while our environment is healthier and our food is safer, we still have a lot more to do,” said Petersen.

For more information about the 75th Anniversary, visit the Nevada NRCS Web site at http://www.nv.nrcs.usda.gov.

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