SOIL AND WATER CONSERVATION DISTRICTS (SWCDs)
What is a Conservation District
Conservation districts are local governmental subdivisions established under state law to carry out a program for the conservation, use and development of soil, water and related resources. Districts are resource management agencies, coordinating and implementing resource and environmental programs at the local level in cooperation with federal and state agencies.
Conservation districts had their beginning in the 1930s when Congress, in response to national concern over mounting erosion, floods and sky-blackening dust storms that swept across the country, enacted the Soil Conservation Act of 1935. The act stated for the first time a national policy to provide a permanent program for the control and prevention of soil erosion, and directed the Secretary of Agriculture to establish the Soil Conservation Service to implement this policy. The conservation district concept was developed to enlist the cooperation of landowners and occupiers in carrying out the programs authorized by the act.
To encourage local participation in the program, President Roosevelt sent all state governors A Standard State Soil Conservation Districts Law, with a recommendation for enactment of legislation along its lines. On March 3, 1937, Arkansas became the first state to adopt a law modeled on the Standard Act. On August 4, 1937, the first conservation district, the Brown Creek District included the birthplace of Dr. Hugh Hammond Bennett, the first Chief of the Soil Conservation Service - commonly referred to as the father of soil conservation. By 1938, twenty-seven states had followed suit, and by the late 1940s, all fifty states had adopted similar legislation. District’s laws were adopted in the 1960s by Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and in the 1980s by the District of Columbia, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The Erie County SWCD was formed on January 1, 1943.
What Do Districts Do?
Districts work with landowners, land managers, local government agencies, and other local interests in addressing a broad spectrum of resource concerns: erosion control, flood prevention, water conservation and use, wetlands, ground water, water quality and quantity, nonpoint source pollution, forestland protection, wildlife, recreation, waste water management and community development.
How Many Districts are There?
In New York, there are 58 conservation districts, one representing each county and five districts represent the boroughs of New York City. Collectively, the 58 districts are represented by the New York Association of Conservation Districts (NYACD). Nationwide, there are approximately 3,000 conservation districts, the number varying from time to time as a result of the combination, division, or the other restructuring of district boundaries. These districts, identified in some states as soil conservation districts, conservation districts, natural resources conservation districts, natural resource districts or resource conservation districts, cover 98 percent of the privately owned land in the fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Marian Islands, and Guam.
Erie County Soil & Water Conservation District
Erie County borders the southeast shore of Lake Erie along the western edge of New York State. It is bounded on the north by Niagara County, on the east by Genesee and Wyoming Counties, and on the south by Cattaraugus and Chautauqua Counties. The northwest corner of the county is separated from Canada by the Niagara River.
Erie County is roughly rectangular. It is about 43 miles from north to south and averages 24 miles from east to west. The county has a total area of approximately 670,000 acres. Buffalo, the second largest city in New York, is the county seat and the county is the most populous county outside of the New York City metropolitan area.
The county’s strong industrial and agricultural base gives it both an urban and rural character. According to the 1995 Census of Agriculture, about 31 percent of the land area in the county is in active farms. Of the area in farmland, about 60 percent is cropland and hayland, 15 percent is pasture, 15 percent is farm woodlots. The principal agricultural enterprise is dairying; however, substantial areas are used for nursery stock, fresh market vegetable crops, and vineyards. A few areas are in orchards, horse farms beef operations, and other specialty crops and livestock operations. Corn and hay crops occupy the largest acreage. About 1.5 percent of the cropland is irrigated, mostly in the vegetable growing region. Production of maple syrup is important in the central and southern part of the county. The acreage in crops and pasture has decreased rapidly in the last few decades as more and more land is converted to urban and rural residential uses. A large acreage in the central and northern part of the county that was once farmed is now developed for urban and suburban uses.
Many of the soils in the county are suited to a wide variety of farm and non-farm uses. The main exceptions are the organic soil, very wet soils, shallow soil, and steep soils. Management of surface and subsurface drainage and runoff is the principal soil management problem on the Erie-Ontario lowland plain in the northern and western parts of the county.
Soil erosion is a major or potential problem on about one-quarter of the cropland in Erie county, especially on hillsides and valley sides in the Allegheny Plateau uplands in the central and southern parts of the county. The hazard of erosion is related to the slope and credibility of the soil, the amount and intensity or rainfall, and the type of vegetative cover. The fringe area between the upland plateau and lowland plain is dominated by shallow and moderately deep soils that require careful management for most uses.
Although priorities change yearly, the focus remains primarily on soil conservation and water quality. District programs provide information, service, technical, and financial assistance to agricultural, urban, and suburban constituents.
The Erie County Soil & Water Conservation District is directed by a Board of Directors. The Board of Directors, amongst themselves, elects a chair, a vice-chair, and a treasurer. All 7 members of the board are appointed by the County Legislature. Two members are representatives from the County Legislature. One representative is from the Grange, one is from the Farm Bureau, and three At-Large. The Board directs the activities of the Erie County Soil and Water Conservation District staff through the District Field Manager. These individuals are then responsible for the implementation of the district’s program, and are accountable to the board for all actions of the district.
The ECSWCD Board of Directors meets monthly on the second Tuesday at 9:30am.
The District Staff report to the Board of Directors. The following is a list of Directors and their titles:
Board of Directors
John Mills, Chairman – County Legislator
Patrick Burke – County Legislator
David Mosher – Grange
Stanley Travis – Farm Bureau
Dr Kelly Frothingham – At Large
Samuel Chiavetta – At Large
Ray Waterman - At Large
Mark Gaston – District Field Manager
Don Stribick – Conservation District Technician
James Sroka – Water Quality Technician
Allen Young – Water Quality Technician
Melanie Saunders – Secretary / Treasurer
Christopher Fry PE – Conservation District Engineer