History of the Conservation Movement

A director should be familiar with the history of the conservation movement and the creation of conservation districts.

A director should be familiar with the history of the conservation movement and the creation of conservation districts.

Leadership Initiative

Pennsylvania Partnership Conservation Leadership Initiative

History-screen-1Since 1986, the "Building for Tomorrow" Leadership Development Program has been working to develop tools and training products aimed at enhancing the leadership and professional development of Pennsylvania's conservation districts.


Conservation District History - 1930s

Conservation District History

  • Early 1930s–Depression rocked the country
  • Dust Bowl–unparalleled ecologic and agricultural disaster that drove people from their homes
  • In 1933, FDR summoned Hugh Hammond Bennett, a soil scientist, to the White House to see what could be done
  • Bennett told FDR that 100 million acres had lost its topsoil, nearly half had been destroyed and could never be farmed again.
  • FDR gave Bennett $5 million in relief funds to start the Soil Erosion Service, a temporary agency intended to provide relief

Conservation District History - 1935

Conservation District History (cont.)

  • History-screen-3In 1935, Hugh Hammond Bennett testified before Congress to persuade them to fund a permanent agency to heal the land.
  • He wanted there to be local control, with every farm community setting up a soil conservation district.
  • While talking to Congress, he looked out the window –revealed a “cloud of dust” coming from the Great Plains, two days after the infamous Black Sunday.
  • Congress unanimously passed legislation making soil & water conservation a national policy and priority

Conservation District History - 1937

Conservation District History (cont.)

  • History-Screen-41937–President Roosevelt wrote governors of all states recommending conservation district enabling legislation
  • Standard Soil Conservation Law–to persuade farmers & landowners to utilize soil conserving methods
  • Brown Creek SWCD (NC) first conservation district established on August 4,1937



NACD History

NACD History

  • In 1946, 32 soil conservation districts met in DC to form the National Association of Soil Conservation Districts (NASCD).
  • Over 1600 districts had already formed.
  • Early conservation district leaders recognized the need for a unified message to policy makers.
  • Today there are nearly 3000 conservation districts nationwide.

First Conservation Districts - 1945

First PA Conservation Districts

  • Pennsylvania's first districts were formed in 1945 under the authority of the Conservation District Law (Act 217).
  • An earlier law was passed in 1937 which allowed the creation of Conservation Districts along watershed lines was later superseded by Act 217 of 1945.

First PA Conservation Districts - cont

First PA Conservation Districts (cont.)


The Potter County Commissioners were the first in the state to create a Conservation District - which they did by resolution dated November 28, 1945.

  • Within a year, eight more districts were created - Allegheny, Berks, Clarion, Clinton, Fulton, Jefferson, Lehigh, and Tioga.
  • Currently there are 66 districts throughout the state.
  • Philadelphia was designated as an Urban Conservation Partnership which is similar in philosophy and function to a conservation district.

First Conservation Districts - SCC

First PA Conservation Districts (cont.)

The State Conservation Commission (SCC) which provides oversight to districts was originally housed and supported by the PA Dept of Agriculture (PDA) until 1979.

From that date until 1995, the SCC was housed under DER. From 1995 until present day the SCC has been housed in the PDA.

The influence of these supporting agencies has had a major impact on program development, staffing and funding for conservation districts.


Today in PA Conservation Districts

Today in PA Conservation Districts

In 1979 the state recognized the potential of districts ability to educate, promote and deliver sound soil and water conservation programs on a local level through their local partnerships and connections.

As a result the state may enter into formal contracts, delegations and grants to deliver these programs. Some of these programs include:

  • Erosion and Sediment Pollution Control
  • Watershed Specialist
  • Nutrient Management Act Program
  • Chesapeake Bay Non-Point Source Pollution Program


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