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Conservation past, present, and future

-preserving our natural resources through agriculture and community


April 18, 2024 -

(an excerpt from our annual Farm Edition - check out all the other great topics on Land and Water including: The Farm Bill, Aquifer Decline, 4-H, FFA, Honoring our Farmers...Leaving a Legacy, decline in farms.., and more)


By: Katherine Trowbridge


Conservation is the protection, preservation, management, or restoration of natural environments and the ecological communities that inhabit them. Conservation takes careful maintenance and upkeep of a natural resource to prevent it from disappearing. Natural resources include - soil, water, air, plants, animals, and energy.
The purpose of conservation in agriculture is to maintain or improve the land with a long-term vision for the future, which we call sustainability.

Conservation districts were formed on a national level following the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, which brought attention to the need to conserve natural resources, especially soil.


A model Conservation District Law was developed in 1937 by the US Department of Agriculture, under the leadership of President Franklin Roosevelt, aimed at fostering local leadership to coordinate conservation tailored to meet local conditions and priorities. The first soil conservation district was organized in the Brown Creek watershed of North Carolina on August 4, 1937. 


Conservation districts are non-regulatory subdivisions of government, responsible for providing technical and financial assistance, education, and access to conservation practices, empowering landowners to voluntarily implement conservation to support their land. 


In this feature, on conservation, we will take a look at Franklin Conservation District’s work, both in agriculture and within the community. 


Established in 1952, Franklin Conservation District (FCD) has, steadfastly, pursued a visionary agenda: fostering responsible stewardship of renewable resources and sustaining agriculture in Franklin County; through direct support for cooperative, voluntary, and economically viable environmental solutions, leveraging grant funding to fulfill FCD’s mission. 


FCD is your community based hub of expertise and funding to help you achieve natural resource and land use goals working in partnership with FCD’s board of supervisors along with  local community members and resources on actions that keep our air, water, soil, habitats, and farmland healthy for all. FCD is a “locally driven” conservation delivery system that identifies natural resource problems and guides voluntary solutions. From agriculture to residential/urban settings, FCD is assisting conservation efforts on a broad spectrum.


Voluntary Stewardship Program Coordinator for FCD, Kelsi Potterf shared a presentation at Soil Con in February highlighting conservation efforts. The presentation looked at four areas that FCD can assist you in. She shared it all begins with a conversation, contacting the FCD to find out more. Then, moving into developing a plan, project implementation, and long term success.  FCD can assist small farms and ag in a variety of ways from fruit crop concerns, conservation practices, and voluntary stewardship, to wildfire resilience, irrigation (efficiency, upgrades) and water management. Even habitat, erosion control, and wildlife structures including fish screens, nest boxes and wildlife friendly fencing.  


Max Nelson, FCD’s Outreach Specialist said, “At FCD, we help farmers implement a wide spectrum of conservation practices that not only preserve natural resources, but also enhance agriculture viability and soil resilience for future sustainability. From erosion control to water contamination control, from implementing cover crops to upgrading irrigation and energy systems, from conducting soil tests to providing engineering services, we can help you conserve natural resources. Our services extend beyond these examples. We encourage farmers with diverse conservation projects to connect with us. Your commitment to building a robust agricultural future is pivotal to our county’s conservation efforts.”


The FCD’s educational programs include workshops and area farm tours. 


Beyond agriculture, the FCD has several residential programs including their heritage garden program, water conservation, and backyard riparian buffers (strips of trees, shrubs, or grasses planted by water bodies that assist in protecting water quality and stream habitat). 


The Heritage Garden Program is brought to our community by the Benton and Franklin Conservation Districts in partnership with the Columbia Basin Chapter of the Native Plant Society. The Heritage Garden Program is a garden certification program dedicated to creating water-wise landscapes and gardens that incorporate native plants of Washington State. Heritage Gardens also honor the unique natural and cultural features of the Columbia River Basin through education to the community. FCD provides assistance to those wishing to create a water-wise, native plant garden or Heritage Garden or simply use efficient irrigation methods in their backyard garden. 


FCD is also dedicated to educating youth in Franklin County through hands-on science inquiry about water and soil quality and conservation issues in our area. In addition to the conservation practices FCD helps landowners with, they also provide education programs for area schools including Salmon in the Classroom, Wheat Week, Drain Rangers and Jr. Drain Rangers, and teacher workshops. 


The Salmon in the Classroom program, established in 1991 by Washington Department Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), was created as an education project to encourage respect for water resources and promote responsible behavior towards the environment. FCD began sponsoring the Salmon in the Classroom Program in 2002 for schools within Franklin County. 

Each year, approximately 2,000 students across Franklin County raise 200 Chinook from eggs to fry stage in their classroom. Salmon in the Classroom’s goal is to provide these students with a personal experience with the life cycle of a salmon. 


Students join FCD at Sacajawea Park in Pasco each spring for “Salmon Celebration” to release their fish into the Columbia River. Students spend the day learning more about the cultural and historical significance of salmon while also celebrating the incredible journey salmon take as part of their lifecycle. All while encouraging students to embrace the outdoors as their classroom, helping them to understand their role in our environment and fostering a deeper connection to nature. 


 Mesa Elementary began this year's release program (pictured)

 

Drain Rangers (3rd-5th graders) curriculum develops an understanding of the serious issues facing our community from stormwater runoff and to share specific actions we can take to improve the quality of our water. Jr. Drain Rangers is a stormwater education program modeled after Drain Rangers and adapted to the learning needs of students from Kindergarten through second grade. 


Wheat Week is a series of five lessons, delivered over the course of one week. These lessons align with the Next Generation Science Standards educating students about systems, water, soil, conservation, DNA, energy, and wheat, as well as how they impact our daily lives. 


Back to the agriculture side. In 2003, FCD became the entity within Franklin County that accepts agricultural burning applications and issues agriculture burning permits. FCD can assist you in knowing whether you need a permit or not, based on requirements. 


FCD provides technical and financial assistance to Franklin County livestock producers working with area dairy farmers to meet legislatively mandated deadlines for approving and certifying dairy nutrient management plans. 


Through FCD, Franklin County is one of 28 counties in the state that is enrolled in the Voluntary Stewardship Program (VSP). VSP brings community driven solutions for healthy resources and agriculture. VSP is a collaborative process that helps our community preserve healthy landscapes and strong farms today and for the future. 


Through VSP, Franklin County and our agricultural landowners are offered farm-friendly options for complying with state requirements to protect fragile and/or hazardous natural resources - referred to as “critical areas” in places where agricultural activity is conducted. 


As the lead manager of the VSP program in Franklin County, FCD is responsible for outreach, conservation practice documentation, and landowner assistance. 


Instead of enacting further critical area regulations on agricultural lands, VSP provides an alternative approach to protecting critical areas by promoting, implementing, and evaluating voluntary measures while promoting agriculture in Franklin County. As was stated earlier, FCD works with landowners to develop voluntary, site-specific stewardship plans to protect crucial areas on agricultural lands while maintaining and enhancing the visibility of agriculture. 


FCD utilizes local state and federal programs, natural resource investments, voluntary stewardship programs and searches for relevant programs and opportunities to facilitate partnerships and collaboration, while seeking grants to fund their efforts. They are governed by a board of elected and appointed (by the WA State Conservation Commission) supervisors who establish priorities and set policy. FCD has three locally elected and two appointed board members. 


Nelson explained, “Conservation districts do not receive ongoing budget funds from either the state or local county, but they aggregate conservation needs and projects from the community to secure funding. Strengthening community engagement and communication enhances the FCD’s capacity to access resources, execute projects, and increase the resilience of our county.”


Nelson encourages area farmers and residents to, “Reach out to explore the resources and support we can provide for you and your operation,” by contacting the FCD office at (509) 416-0440.


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