The organization of conservation districts in Tennessee began June 13th 1940 with the creation of Sumner County and Lauderdale County SCDs. By 1959, with the creation of the Lake County SCD on September 9th, all 95 counties in Tennessee had formed soil conservation districts.
The Madison County Soil Conservation District is a corporate and political subdivision of Tennessee. Organized July 10th, 1941 by the state soil conservation committee at the request of Madison County landowners, the district became the tenth soil conservation district to be formed in Tennessee. It received its charter from the state on October 1, 1941. The original board was composed of Tom Lewis, C. O. Hopper, J. Harris Smith, N. T. Mayo, and Roy Ozier. Organized in accordance with the purposes, provisions, power and restrictions set forth within the Tennessee Soil Conservation District law the district geographical and political boundaries are the same as those of Madison County, comprising some 358,000 acres of land and water. The district is one of 95 such districts in the state and one of 3,000 districts across the country.
The District does much to promote conservation but its primary function is as an intermediary between owners of privately owned agricultural property and the Federal Government, wherein, through cooperating agreements between the District and private landowners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency of the Federal Government under USDA will provide certain technical services and financial aid to assist private landowners with the prevention and reduction of soil erosion and with the conservation of soil related natural resources.
Links to Madison County SCD History: Annual Reports 1942 - 2014
Conservation District History
From NACD Web Page
In the early 1930s, 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. Thousands of dust refugees left the black fog to seek better lives.
But the storms stretched across the nation. They reached 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. Because nearly 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. Brown County Soil & Water Conservation District in North Carolina was the first district established. The movement caught on across the country with district-enabling legislation passed in every state. Today, the country is blanketed with nearly 3,000 conservation districts.
by Douglas Helms, Historian, Natural Resources
From NRCS Web Page
President Franklin D. Roosevelt transmitted the law regarding standard state soil conservation districts to the governors of the states on February 27, 1937 along with the suggestion that each state pass the law. Arkansas passed the first such law on March 3, 1937. The Brown Creek Soil Conservation District in North Carolina, in whose boundaries lay the home farm of Hugh Bennett, signed the first memorandum of understanding with the USDA on August 4, 1937. Not surprisingly, many of the demonstration project areas and CCC work areas quickly organized conservation districts. In some areas SCS personnel and farmers friendly to the district movement had to overcome opposition. At the end of 1939 there were eighty-eight million acres in districts. The acreage in districts topped the one billion mark in 1947 and the two billion mark in 1973.
The nearly three thousand districts, their state associations, and the National Association of Conservation Districts became the grass-roots support for federal conservation programs and helped sustain SCS and conservation funding through difficult times. In states and counties where districts had funds, they added personnel to work alongside SCS employees and thus sped the conservation work. The SCS field office in many states might have a mixture of federal and district employees working alongside one another.
The districts could further conservation by purchasing equipment and supplies needed for conservation work. For instance, they promoted the adoption of conservation tillage by purchasing no-till drills which they lent or leased to farmers. As private citizens, district officials could influence state laws and regulations in areas where it would be inappropriate for federal employees to do so. As units of state government, the districts could play a role in planning and zoning, areas of the law reserved to state government.
The districts, which are often conterminous with counties, are organized under state law and are directed by locally elected directors or supervisors. This partnership sustained the conservation movement in the United States. This paper will focus on the historical experiences of working with local groups, specifically conservation districts, in achieving conservation. The purpose is not to promote districts as an ideal instrument worldwide, but to increase awareness of this system so that others may further examine its elements if the district concept seems promising.
Hugh Hammond Bennett, more than any other person, influenced the development of the soil conservation movement in the United States. Study and observation during his career as a soil scientist in the U. S. Department of Agriculture convinced him that soil erosion was a menace to long-term productivity of the land. The Great Depression provided Bennett with an opportunity when public works programs were created to put people to work. Beginning in 1933, as head of the Soil Erosion Service, he received some of the emergency employment money to demonstrate soil and water conservation methods in selected watersheds. The work proved popular and the Congress then created the Soil Conservation Service with the Soil Conservation Act of 1935. For the most part the early agency continued to promote soil conservation through the demonstration projects as trained soil conservationists worked directly with farmers. The availability of labor and equipment greatly facilitated the adoption of these measures (Helms, 1985).
Meanwhile, M. L. (Milburn Lincoln) Wilson, assistant secretary of the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and one of America's most innovative agricultural policy-makers, had been thinking about ways to spread soil conservation beyond the scattered demonstration projects, and to make it a force for agricultural reform. Several principles guided his thinking. Farmers had to feel that they had an active role in promoting soil conservation if they were to accept it as a goal and ultimately a regular part of their farming operations. Also, Wilson recognized that the acceptance of conservation in the demonstration projects rested partly on the fact that equipment, labor, and the assistance of trained soil conservationists were available to farmers. This kind of assistance was not available outside the demonstration projects. Belief in soil conservation was insufficient to spread adoption of conservation measures outside the projects. Wilson's dilemma was how to make farmers feel more involved and in control, and how to provide the assistance, not just on demonstration projects, but nationwide to bring soil conservation to all the Nation's farmlands (Glick, 1990).
With the assistance of Philip M. Glick, a lawyer in the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Wilson's ideas were embodied in the "Standard State Soil Conservation District Law." The conservation district, as outlined in the standard law, was a new device in American federalism. It was classified as a "special district" because it had limited purposes and was not a local unit of general government as is the county or city. Just to list a few of the powers of the district, it could conduct surveys and research, disseminate information, conduct demonstrations, carry out prevention and control measures, acquire land and property, sue and be sued, and promulgate land-use regulations. In some instances these authorities paralleled the authorities of the Soil Conservation Service, thus accommodating cooperative ventures. In other cases the districts could do things which the federal government could not do. In short, adding the districts enhanced and expanded the soil conservation movement. Philip Glick has suggested that this type of American federalism with cooperation among federal, state, and local entities resembled not so much a layered cake, but a marble cake (Glick, 1967 and 1990).
Organization of districts proceeded after state legislatures passed a law based on the "standard law." If the local people then voted for the district in a referendum, they elected directors and supervisors of the district. Then the districts signed an agreement with USDA. The working relationship that has developed over the years is for the districts to sign agreements with individual farmers and ranchers. Then trained soil conservationists from the Soil Conservation Service field offices worked individually with them on conservation problems.
The following is from the NACD website:
Across the United States,
nearly 3,000 conservation districts, almost
one in every county, are helping local people
to conserve land, water, forests, wildlife
and related natural resources.
Because conservation districts are established under state laws, they vary in what they are called and how they are funded. What we refer to as conservation districts are referred to by several other names under various state laws. Examples of states with other names follow: