SHOSHONE — Seventy-five years ago, the soil conservation movement was formed to stop a national environmental crisis known as the Dust Bowl.
Terraces, windbreaks, conservation tillage and crop rotations are all practices today’s farmers use to help hold fragile top soil in place. Just as the landscape of farming has changed, so have the challenges facing conservation districts.
Carl Pendleton returned to the family farm in 1977 and was recruited to join the Wood River Soil and Water Conservation District shortly after. Over the years, the district has changed its focus from completing soil surveys to improving irrigation efficiency to biological control of invasive species.
But as the number of small acreages has increased across southern Idaho, conservation districts find themselves grappling with resource concerns in the interface between traditional agricultural areas and urban development.
Weed management and its corresponding fire risk is an emerging resource concern. Many of the five- or 10-acre lots in Lincoln County were sold without water shares so that the water could be used to irrigate remaining agricultural land. Cheat grass has proliferated on those dry acres.
Even before the big fires sparked in the area last summer, the Wood River SWCD began visiting subdivisions and providing information about weed management and fire safety. The board also has a range-land drill that can be rented by ranchers reseed burned areas.
Kay Billington, a supervisor on the Wood River SWCD board, education is one of the key missions of the conservation district.
“Once you can educate people in an area, others will see what they are doing and will want to copy it,” she said. “They want to protect their community.”
One of the greater challenges facing the Wood River SWCD is finding landowners or farmers who are willing to serve on the volunteer board. Both Billington and Pendleton would like to see small acreage owners join the board.
Pendleton has served on the board for four decades because of the knowledge he has gained about natural resources and best management practices.
“It’s an opportunity to know what’s important and what’s coming down the road,” he said. “You get to help guide policy on the federal level.”
Billington joined to board to serve the community.
“We are an ag-based region,” she said. “Protecting our soil and water is so critical.”