February’s meeting was amazing; did you go?! Not only did we hear from some really great speakers, of which Shasti Conrad the King County Dems was my favorite; we learned about the King County Conservation District Board Seat #1 race. Both candidates, Chris Porter and Karen Howe, seeking endorsements were impressively suited to serve on the board and received the endorsement.
After they spoke I found myself compelled to learn more about this organization that’s main object is to work within the private sector through incentive-based conservation. Below is what I found, I hope you find it interesting; but more importantly, if environmental issues are your top issue I hope you get involved with your local conservation board. Both our local boards offer events, opportunities to volunteer, and have seats open on their governing board every spring. And while the King election has an unprecedented 6 candidates this year, the Pierce election followed a more predictable pattern with an incumbent running unopposed.
Conservation districts, while state mandated and generally funded by local taxes, were originally created with help of the Federal Department of Agriculture in the late 1930s. After historic draughts and poor farming techniques combined to create the dust bowl era, it was thought that an increased awareness of soil conserving methods on a local level would be both a practical and well received preventative measure. President Franklin D Roosevelt, along with others, lead the push for the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act, which amended the Soil Conservation Act in order to enhance federal-state coordination. Roosevelt also sent each governor a proposed standard state statutes, thus framing this Act across the nation.
Currently, there are over 3000 conservation districts nationally, 45 of which are in the state of Washington (you are able to find your district here https://scc.wa.gov/conservation-district-map/). Each district has their own governing body, and their own unique bylaws. In general each local board has five officers, three of which are elected on a rotating schedule for three years terms. The two remaining board members also serve three years terms, but they are appointed by the state governing board, the Washington Associations of Conservation (WACD).
Each of the Washington State conservation district belongs to an area association, both of our districts fall into the Western region, which spans from the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific. At least once a year, the area association is requited to meet and discuss conservation issues that are unique our climate, ultimately deciding which matters to bring to the annual statewide meeting of WACD. This communication between local, regional, and state wide organizations matches the original intent of independent hyper local conservation efforts, while still being organized enough to use their collective strength to prioritize conservation efforts.
The primary goal of these districts continues to be soil and water conservation, mostly thorough work with farmers and those in the agricultural field. They aim to be an organization that is full of ‘carrots’ and no sticks. It allows for voluntary engagement, in a way that hopefully compliments the regulatory aspects of other government entities, and under the right leadership could press conservation changes to be done at a quicker tempo than an organization under governmental timelines are able to meet. The district lines also compliment a quicker, more direct, timeline; if leadership is creative and willing to push. For example, assessments gained from inside city limits have no obligation to be spent there, money can flow freely through out the conservation district across jurisdictional boundaries.
While each district is funded slightly differently, the majority are funded through local landowner rates or assessments. It is worth nothing, that the Pierce Conservation District (PCD) places an interesting emphasis on grants, reporting that it is common fro them to have upwards of 20 current grants contributing towards their annual operating budget of over 2 million.
Currently, the PCD charges an assessment of $5 per parcel per calendar year, whereas the King Conservation District (KCD) has charged an assessment of $10 per parcel per calendar year. However, due to pending litigation in Washington State regarding property assessments, the PCD, KCD and other districts have collaborated to ask the Washington State Legislature for an official allowance to charge a per parcel rate. Each organization expects rates to match current assessments, while allow for continued predictable income.
Each of our conservation districts offer a wide range of amazing programs. For instance, did you know that you could have your soil tested for free? Each district allows multiple free soil testings, with instructions on their website on how to submit the sample, along with information on exactly how those results will impact your planting plans. Manure match, equipment sharing, pollinator resources, and drainage planning are just the beginning of resources available.
One wider example of the vast potential within these conservation districts, can be found in the Urban Agriculture wing of the PCD, Harvest Pierce County has the vision that our region will be a thriving community engaged in a just and healthy food system. They are working to add and improve community gardens, orchards, and food forests in urban ares, providing education on a variety of topics from edible gardens to a six month farming introduction course; all the while being attuned to the need for justice, connection, and equality within the American food system.
These organizations have an unlimited amount of potential with the right leadership and consistent volunteers! I encourage you to check out KCD at kinged.org or PCD at piercecd.org for events and opportunities to volunteers. And if you are within the King Conservation borders, make sure to request a ballot and place your vote. The voting window is short, only open between March 18th and March 29th! Their website provides all the information http://kingcd.org/about/board-of-supervisors/elections-and-appointments/.