During the Dustbowl Era of the 1930's President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw a need for soil conservation. He pushed Congress to develop a new agency called the Soil Stabilization Service. This agency became the Soil Conservation Service, and more recently, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). To increase the functionality of this new agency, Roosevelt decided local input should be a part of this mix. Out of this, he devised the idea for locally led soil conservation boards. Of course, these boards are now our conservation district boards of supervisors.
Roosevelt went so far as to develop draft legislation (Standard States District Act) for each state so there would be continuity between states and so they would all have the same basic purpose. Roosevelt and Congress informed the states they would not be eligible to receive assistance from the federal Soil Conservation Service unless they had laws that allowed the creation of these boards and local communities were actively forming the boards.
In this way the federal government was able to get local input on which programs would be most locally acceptable. These new boards also facilitated two-way communication between local private landowners and the federal government. The boards were able to identify local soil conservation priorities, and in return informed the local public about new practices that could not only save soil, but could often mean more profitable farming.
In 1939 the Washington State Legislature created Chapter 89.08 of the Revised Code of Washington. RCW 89.08 created the Washington Conservation Commission and provided for the development and dissolution of conservation districts. It also explained the duties, responsibilities and powers of the Commission, conservation districts and district supervisors.
This law has been altered, amended and changed numerous times since it was created. However, much of the original wording remains because the focus and purpose of local conservation districts has remained the same. The law clearly identifies the need to conserve all renewable natural resources through the voluntary actions of Washington's residents.
RCW 89.08 clearly defines the role conservation districts fill in Washington State. It is the role of conservation districts to provide the state's residents with the tools, resources and skills necessary to voluntarily conserve the renewable natural resources.
Although conservation districts were first created to address resource conservation in the agricultural community, the State Legislature has broadened their scope over the years. Our state legislators recognize that for issues relating to natural resources, the most effective governmental link to private landowners in Washington State are conservation districts.