The concept is simple. Let a group of soil and water conservation districts work together on matters that affect an entire region of similar geography and agricultural and rural make-up. The result, started many years ago, was Resource Conservation and Development units. While a well-kept secret to many, some of the more active ones were involved in everything from promoting development of dry hydrants on ponds for fire control in rural areas to promotion of various conservation and forestry field days.
One of the best known projects in recent years is the conservation easement program. While more than one RC&D was involved in this effort, Woodland Lakes in northeast Indiana, based in Ft. Wayne, was most well-known. The RC&D became the receiving agent for people who voluntarily wanted to place an easement on their land so that it would always be used in agriculture. The 7,600 acres of the Waugh estate was placed in a conservation easement and the White County land's easement rights are held by the Woodland Lakes RC&D. In that case, the officials involved in settling the estate went to Woodland Lakes, even though it was out of their territory, because they knew of their expertise in handling these matters.
Now comes word that funding has been cut that supported the RC&D's. In the past, the Natural Resources Conservation Service provided office space and some assistance, either a secretary, an NRCS staff person assigned to work with the RC&D, or both, to the RC&D. Those ties have now been severed.
Apparently, some of the NRCS personnel who held those positions as the staff person assisting the RC&D have opted for early retirement. Others are reshuffling into other spots within NRCS if openings are available.
Jane Hardisty, state conservationist with NRCS in Indiana, confirmed last Wednesday that these changes were made because funding was cut. She lamented the fact that it happened, because she knows the good these groups have done for many rural communities and rural areas throughout the past several decades in Indiana.
Hardisty says that this does not mean the RC&Ds will no longer exist or function. The organizations still exist, and the individual RC&Ds are scrambling to make decisions to determine how they can continue to be viable entities in the conservation effort. Look for more on this as developments unfold.