Resource Conservation Districts stemmed from historical concerns of soil degradation, primarily influenced by the Dust Bowl Era
Influence of the Dust Bowl
In his 1939 book The Grapes of Wrath, author John Steinbeck described the families escaping the Dust Bowl: “And then the dispossessed were drawn west–from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico; from Nevada and Arkansas, families, tribes, dusted out, tractor out. Car-loads, caravans, homeless and hungry; twenty thousand and fifty thousand and a hundred thousand and two hundred thousand. They streamed over the mountains, hungry and restless–restless as ants, scurrying to find work to do–to lift, to push, to pick, to cut–anything, any burden to bear, for food. The kids are hungry. We got no place to live. Like ants scurrying for work, for food, and most of all for land.” By 1940 2.5 million people left the Plains States, victims of the combined devastation of severe drought and poor soil conservation practices.
In 1937, as a result of the national “Dust Bowl” crisis, when millions of acres of cropland were destroyed by drought and the devastating loss of fertile topsoil, President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw a need for soil conservation. He pushed Congress to develop a new agency called the Soil Stabilization Service (when millions of acres of farmland were destroyed due to drought and erosion) the federal government passed legislation that established the Soil Conservation Service (SCS).
Beginning of Soil Conservation
“Father of Soil Conservation” Hugh Hammond Bennett and the first Chief of SCC boosted public concern for the problem of soil erosion. Bennett became aware of the threat posed by the erosion of soils early in his career as a surveyor for the USDA Bureau of Soils. The creation of the Soil Conservation Service represented the culmination of the efforts of wind reduced the ability of the land to sustain agricultural productivity and to support rural communities who depended on it for their livelihoods. He launched a public crusade of writing and speaking about the soil erosion crisis. His highly influential 1928 publication “Soil Erosion: A National Menace” influenced Congress to create the first federal soil erosion experiment stations in 1929.
Creation of Resource Conservation Districts
Dryland farming on the Great Plains led to the systematic destruction of the prairie grasses. In the ranching regions, overgrazing also destroyed large areas of grassland. Gradually, the land was laid bare, and significant environmental damage began to occur. Among the natural elements, the strong winds of the region were particularly devastating.
To increase the ability to respond to specific local needs, the states formed “Soil Conservation Districts” that was controlled by local boards of directors. In California, Soil Conservation Districts began forming in the 1940s, and today there are 103 districts throughout the state. Under Article 9 of Public Resource Code, Soil Conservation Districts were originally empowered to manage soil and water resources for conservation, but these powers were expanded in the early 1970s to include “related resources,” including water quality and wildlife habitat. This expansion of powers was reflected in the change of name from “Soil” Conservation Districts to “Resource” Conservation Districts in 1971.
History of EMRCD
EMRCD was formed on March 7, 1997, through the consolidation of five smaller districts; La Paloma RCD, Ballico RCD, El Nido RCD, Stevenson, RCD, and Lone Tree RCD. As a legally constituted unit under the State of California, it was created to develop and further ongoing programs to conserve natural resources in eastern Merced County.