Conservation Districts…

So, What

By: Dawn Salcito Triangle Board Supervisor

As a Board Supervisor for Triangle Natural Resource Conservation District (NRCD) since 2015 I have struggled to explain to people what the districts are, what we do and why they should care. I can tell you that there are 32 active Conservation Districts in Arizona, that we are political subdivisions of the state of Arizona and that our boards are made up of elected and appointed officials. These boards represent cooperators within our district boundaries who are landowners. I say all of that, and have, many times but often I can see the interest of my listener begin to fade away. So why should you care? With so many groups trying to get your membership, time and money what do the Natural Resource Conservation Districts offer the local producer? These are appropriate questions to ask and can best be answered through our actions. Our board supervisors, also landowners and beef producers, have a working knowledge of the major conservation issues concerning our area today. We know these concerns through our shared lifestyle and our outreach efforts to cooperators. For many years local producers expressed their frustration with project development. They struggled to either get the funding required for conservation projects or to clear the regulatory hurdles required for the project. They were daunted by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) application process and were simply not applying. The lack of applications meant many great conservation project ideas failed to ever get off the ground. Recognizing the need, Triangle and Chino Winds NRCD took advantage of a cost share opportunity afforded by the NRCS to hire a Program Assistant. NRCS and the Districts each financially contribute to fund this position to help cooperators navigate the application process, communicate in a timely manner, and receive payments in real business time. As a result of these efforts the Prescott Valley NRCS Field office has seen a big increase in the number of applications. “The application increase is also reflected in the Prescott Valley Field Office Program budget,” said Marques Munis NRCS District Conservationist. “Roughly 6 years ago we were getting 250K to initially allocate for conservation projects while this year we received nearly 2 million dollars in funding! That is huge and wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the districts.” Clearing the regulations required once an EQIP contract was awarded was another hurdle local producers faced. Some waited 6 to 10 years for water projects like pipelines and dirt tank maintenance and cleaning. Cultural surveys required to begin work were backlogged and many projects were put on indefinite hold waiting for clearance. Triangle and Chino Winds contacted local ranchers and asked for funding to apply for a National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Technical Assistance grant. We received $11,000.00 from ranchers, allowing us to apply for an additional $50,000.00. This money went entirely to pay for and support the cost to hire a full time Archaeologist. In the first year he was able to complete the grant required 8 surveys and went on to complete 18 more. This was one man working full time with the NRCS, Forest Service and the Arizona State Land Department. October 2020 will mark our 3rd and final grant renewal. Through bids and contract hiring we’ve been able to apply for 2 additional years without asking ranchers for continued funding. Our last grant funded year will be 2021. Our goal is to financially support these Archaeology efforts by taking bids and contracting jobs. This helps create great conservation plans on Arizona rangeland while not financially overburdening local producers. Triangle and Chino Winds NRCD are just two of a handful of NRCD’s to support an education center. Our education center goes into the classrooms as opposed to being at an actual location. The Western Yavapai Conservation Education Center (WYCEC) has been operating since 1991. Over the years many have volunteered their time and efforts to educate local students on ground water recharge, soil health and food production. In the last 3 years WYCEC has been extremely fortunate to hire 4 local ranch wives to read in the classrooms. Their real-life knowledge makes the lessons they teach much more personal. Last year these ladies gave 4 different presentations throughout Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Skull Valley, Hillside, Peeples Valley and Bagdad. They taught over 8,800 students in those 4 presentations, educating students, teachers, and parents about where their food comes from and what it takes to get food on the plate. The financial support for WYCEC comes from grants and the State Land Department. WYCEC has an amazing group of ladies and exciting new projects to try. Local financial support will grow these efforts and put these lessons in the classrooms more times a year. If you are still reading and have not lost your interest, I hope you have learned just a bit more about the Natural Resource Conservation Districts. Becoming a cooperator and financially supporting your local districts is another way to support agriculture and education in Yavapai county.

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