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When you go to the polls on Nov. 6 and see seven names seeking four spots on something called the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Shelby County, you might be wondering exactly what you are electing these people to do.
Of all the agencies and taxing districts in the county – such as fire districts, solid waste, the library – why would you have to vote on people who seem to be in charge of dirt?
Originally established by Congress in 1935 as the Soil Conservation Service, the NRCS – commonly called the soil board – gradually has expanded its focus from just soil conservation to all natural resources.
“It was established in the mid 1930s when we were having erosion problems in the great dust bowl, and [President Franklin] Roosevelt wanted to put government experts out there that don’t look like G-men,” said Shelby County Farmer Tom Flowers, with a chuckle.
“We’re there as an aid to the farmer,” Flowers said. “It’s a reciprocal agreement with the government. They agreed to help us, and we have a council to help them. It’s a unique partnership.
“Back in the day, we had one-hundred and twenty district conservationists in Kentucky, one for every county, because each county has its own soil conservation office, which is what we old timers call it.”
According to the Web site of Kentucky Energy and Environment’s Cabinet Department for Natural Resources, each county in Kentucky is represented by a local conservation district, consisting of seven elected supervisors. Their purpose is to assist landowners in creating and implementing practices to protect and improve the quality of their soil and water.
These districts help conserve the state’s resources by helping people match their needs with technical and financial resources.
Through working with landowners the soil board helps them take advantage of programs designed to benefit the soil, water, air, plants and animals that result in productive lands and healthy ecosystems, which is an important mission, considering the USDA estimates that 70 percent of land in the United States is owned by private individuals.
What does all this mean for Shelby County?
“We provide technical assistant for all the soil conservation programs for conservation education,” said Ann Griffin, district administrator for the soil board. We have local cost share programs and state and federal programs for agricultural producers. We also contribute to the parks system and the dead animal removal program. We provide conservation education for the schools and we contribute to the library conservation issues and information to the public library.”
Griffin discussed some of the most noteworthy projects the NRCS has done in Shelby County.
“We have purchased a no-till drill that we let people use, and that’s a big thing this year,” she said. “It’s for planting seed and also can be used for warm-season grasses. We have the tree-give away each year. We give away tree seedlings to all fourth-graders in the county and to the general public. We have different species each year, and white pines are what we give to the children. I’ve got some in my yard, and they’re huge. We also donate to the parks every year.”
Examples of park projects partially funded by the NRCS, with funding furnished by a millage tax of .02 cents per hundred dollars on property tax, are the fishing pond that was dug at Red Orchard Park in 2010 as well as a pond at Finchville Park.
Griffin explains how the process works at NRCS.
“We have a board of supervisors, and they make the decisions on how the tax money is spent in the county, and we try to put it back into the county, especially with landowners and their practices on their farms,” she said.
Griffin said the board has seven members.
“Every two years, there is an election,” she said. “This year there are four vacancies, and the next time, there will be three. The soil conservation board was established in the 1930s.
“In those days, there are pictures of people where you could literally drive a pickup truck though. It was so named because we wanted to conserve a natural resource and soil, next to water, is the most natural resource to farmers.”