The mission of soil and water conservation districts across the U.S. is to help private landowners to be good stewards of their land. SWCDs support the use of our natural resources, in a sustainable manner.
Conservationism as a philosophy came to the forefront of American discourse during Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency at the beginning of the 20th century. Roosevelt, and his colleague, Gifford Pinchot (first head of the US Forest Service) believed in the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of the people. This clashed drastically with Roosevelt’s contemporary, John Muir, who believed in preservationism – that nature was almost sacred, that man was an intruder and that we should leave nature alone. Both sides opposed reckless exploitation of natural resources, even Muir acknowledged the need for timber, but Pinchot’s view of wilderness management was far more utilitarian (Meyer, John M. Winter, 1997. “Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, and the Boundaries of Politics in American Thought”). The conservationsists, led by Pinchot, and the preservationists, led by Muir, debated their separate philosophies in many forums during this time.
Both left their legacies – Pinchot and Roosevelt were largely successful in making scientific land management the official US government policy; Muir founded the Sierra Club, and is today referred to as the “Father of the National Parks.
As Pinchot’s and Muir’s careers and lives were coming to an end, other extraordinary lives and careers were beginning, including Aldo Leopold, whose Land Ethic is still relevant today: A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Leopold realized that farmers could play a key role in conserving natural resources that were valuable to the nation as a whole. In his Sand County Almanac he remarks: “A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”
Soil and water conservation districts are based on the idea of conservation. Born out of the dust bowl, SWCDs have a mission to help landowners be the best stewards of their lands possible, in the hopes of avoiding another economic and environmental disaster at the scale of the Dust Bowl. At first, SWCDs worked exclusively with farmers, to figure out new ways to farm that would keep the topsoil in place and perennially productive.
Today, we work with landowners managing all sorts of natural resources including forested lands, lakeshore and prairie. With so much of Minnesota’s natural resources in private hands, SWCDs play a critical role in teaching and supporting landowners in the wise and sustainable use of our state’s incredible bounty of natural resources.
Check out the links throughout our site to learn more about how we are helping local officials, businesses and individual landowners enjoy and manage their land sustainably.
“A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.“
A Sand County Almanac