So who are those guys…? Apr 7, 2009


Washington’s best-kept secret for natural resource conservation and enhancement are the local Conservation Districts (CDs) working in your community. Established in the 1930’s and 1940’s, CDs cover virtually every acre of private lands in Washington. The need for conservation districts was born during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowel, when the federal government envisioned a model of local folks directing the work of USDA conservation agencies. Washington’s enabling legislation was adpted in the 1930’s, and we now have 47 CD’s in Washington. CD’s are a special purpose subdivision of state government however each district is independent.

CDs are usually organized around county boundaries, however we do have several counties with more than one CD. The decision making body for districts are the Board of Supervisors. There are 5 supervisors; 3 elected, and 2 appointed by the Washington State Conservation Commission. The Commission is a small state agency that provides funding and guidance for districts. Supervisors are not paid; they serve on a voluntary basis.

Conservation Districts are funded through a variety of grants from agencies such as the Conservation Commission, Dept. of Ecology, and Dept. Fish and Wildlife. Also, some districts have a special assessment to assist with funding of their activities. There are 13 CDs with special assessment, and they can use these funds to address the local issues and priorities in their community.

CDs do not have regulatory authority. They can not impose fines or enforce laws or regulations. Consequently, CDs have a special relationship with landowners. This relationship, of providing voluntary and incentive based programs, creates a level of trust between landowners and the district. Landowners are willing to discuss their natural resource concerns with a district without the fear of being regulated. While districts may assist landowners with compliance of various rules, it is not the district that does the enforcement.

Districts specialize in “putting conservation on the ground”. While many districts are involved in watershed scale planning, our primary activity is helping landowners restore or enhance the resources on their property. Districts provide technical assistance through development of a site specific conservation plan tailored to meet the needs of the individual landowner. The conservation plan will inventory the resources, describe the resource concerns, and suggest Best Management Practices (BMP) to restore or enhance those resources. The district can also help find funding if that is needed to install the BMPs.

Districts in Washington are involved in many different natural resource issues. Some districts have forestry programs, while other districts are working on shellfish concerns. Soil erosion is a concern in some areas, while water quality and quantity are priorities in other areas. Many districts have programs to help with wildlife and fish habitat, and other districts are helping communities with low impact development. Whatever the issue, the district’s programs are a reflection of the local community, the local resources and the priorities established by the Board. If you want to learn more about districts, or how to contact the conservation district where you live, please visit the Conservation Commission’s website at

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