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«Promoting the Indian Use of Indian Resources 11/2008 The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and ...»

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Although the list is very formal, it is a direct example of the duties or powers granted to different conservation districts

by different states and Tribal governments:

1. To develop comprehensive plans for the conservation of soil resources and for the control and prevention of soil erosion within the district, which plans must specify in such detail as may be possible the acts, procedures, performances, and avoidances which are necessary or desirable for the effectuation of such plans, including the specification of engineering operations, methods of cultivation, the growing of vegetation, cropping programs, tillage practices, and changes in use of land, and to publish such plans and information and bring them to the attention of occupiers of lands within the district.

2. To formulate regulations governing the use of lands within the district in the interest of conserving soil and soil resources and preventing and controlling soil erosion, and may conduct public meetings and hearings upon tentative regulations as may be necessary to assist them in this work. The land use regulations that may be adopted

by the supervisors may include:

a. Provisions requiring the carrying out of necessary engineering operations, including the construction of terraces, terrace outlets, check dams, dikes, ponds, ditches, and other necessary structures.

b. Provisions requiring observance of particular methods of cultivation, including contour cultivating, contour furrowing, sowing, planting, strip cropping, seeding and planting of lands to water conserving and erosion preventing plants, trees, grasses, forestation, and reforestation.

c. Specifications of cropping programs and tillage practices to be observed.

d. Provisions requiring the retirement from cultivation of highly erosive areas or of areas on which erosion may not be controlled adequately if cultivation is carried on.

e. Provisions for such other means, measures, operations, and programs as may assist conservation of soil and water resources and prevent or control soil erosion in the district, having due regard to the declaration of policy set forth.

3. To act as a local delivery system for all local, state, and federal natural resource programs.

4. To provide landowner/land user input in the delivery of programs and services from the NRCS. Often the concept of “government to government” fails to recognize the individual using the land. A conservation district insures the input from the user of the land.

5. To cooperate or enter into agreements with and, within the limits of appropriations duly made available by law, to furnish financial or other aid to any agency, governmental or otherwise, or any occupier of lands within the district in carrying on of erosion control and prevention operations within the district, subject to such conditions as the supervisors may deem necessary.

6. To make available, on such terms as it shall prescribe, to land occupiers, government units or qualified electors within the district, agricultural and engineering machinery and equipment, fertilizer, seeds and seedlings, and such other material or equipment as will assist such land occupiers to carry on operations upon their lands for the conservation of soil and water resources and for the prevention of soil erosion.

7. To conduct surveys, investigations, and research relating to the character of soil erosion and the preventive and control measures needed, and to publish the results of such surveys, investigation, or research, and to disseminate information concerning such preventative and control measures.

8. To conduct demonstration projects within the district.

Demonstrate methods and measures by which soil and soil resources may be conserved and soil erosion in the form of soil blowing and soil washing may be prevented and controlled.

9. To carry out preventative and control measures within the district, including, but not limited to, engineering operations, methods of cultivation, the growing of vegetation, and changes in use of the land.

10. To construct, improve, and maintain such structures as may be necessary or convenient for the performance of any operations authorized.

11. To take over, by purchase, lease or otherwise, and to administer any soil conservation, erosion control or erosion prevention project located within its boundaries undertaken by the United States or any of its agencies, or by a state or any of its agencies; to manage as an agent of the United States, or any of its agencies or of a state and any of its agencies, any soil conservation, erosion control, or erosion prevention project within its boundaries.

12. To accept donations, gifts, and contributions in money services, materials or otherwise from the United States or any of its agencies or from a state or any of its agencies, and to use or expend such moneys, services, materials or other contributions in carrying on its operations.

13. Education and training programs for land users, owners and managers.

14. To hire employees, fix their compensation rate, and define job duties.

15. Acquire personal property such as equipment or machinery to introduce soil conservation practices to the community.

16. Have a separate account established by the district for funds received and dispersed by the board subject to audit according to government laws and regulation.

17. Participate in the state association of conservation districts as well as the national association of conservation districts.

18. Form and lead the local working group, which leads the application process for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.

19. Participate in the State Technical Committee and the State Food Agriculture Committee.

The above list may contain similar activities to those of Tribal resource or land use committees. However, there are some differences between these committees and a conservation district, the most important being the authority for delivery of NRCS service comes only through chartered conservation districts and their elected directors.




The vast majority of states have established their districts along county lines. Larger reservations will be covered by as many conservation districts as there are county lines bisecting that reservation. To alleviate this problem, a few Tribal governments have established conservation districts under Tribal charter. Other Tribal governments have organized reservation-wide conservation districts under state law.

Both ways of establishing conservation districts are now recognized and accepted nationally.

Since Reservation land areas are generally always a part of one or more conservation districts, where the resource problems on the reservation are much the same as resource problems in the rest of the district, then it is reasonable to expect assistance from NRCS when requested. However, problems in service occur when conservation needs on the reservation are very different than those in the rest of the conservation district.

Generally, Indian lands have not been developed to the same level as off-reservation lands. This differing level of development leads to differing priorities. As an example, offreservation lands may all be cross fenced and have sufficient water developments for conservation pasture management, while little has been accomplished in pasture rotations on reservation. There may be a need for 500 miles of cross fencing, and 1,000 water developments on the reservation to properly manage the grazing resource. Because this type of work is completed on the lands they normally work with, the established Conservation District Board probably has not prioritized cross fencing or stock water development as a high needs item. They may have prioritized shelterbelts as their highest priority, so that on reservation participants will find assistance available primarily for shelterbelt plantings. To get the needs of the reservation known and the NRCS programs meeting needs on the reservation, it is critically important for Tribal governments and Indian agriculture producers to become involved in setting the goals and priorities of the conservation district.

When you and your group or Tribe begin discussions on exercising one of the options available to you, there will be some concerns on the impacts to the established districts.

Discussion should remain focused on the conservation of resources, not who owns the land or who’s done what to whom in the past. The discussion of resource conservation will focus attention on your goals and the goals of the established districts. More often than not, everyone will be surprised at the commonality of the goals. Working toward common goals will lead to understanding and may lead to a mutually beneficial relationship between the Reservation and the established districts.



There are several options available to Tribal governments and reservation residents in becoming involved in a

conservation district:

1. Become involved in an established district or districts.

2. Form a conservation district under state law.

3. Form a conservation district under Tribal law.

4. Accept things as they are (status quo).

We have described the first three available options in the following discussion, but we have not described the status quo. The reason being is the purpose of this booklet is to increase the amount of conservation on Indian land as well as the number of Indian participants in USDA programs.


Most Tribal governments are in the situation where their reservation is a part of one or more existing conservation districts formed under state laws and following political boundaries, generally county lines. Tribes may feel that this arrangement is satisfactory but would like to see more attention paid to the resource problems on the reservation.

This means getting more involved with the conservation district governing body, the district board.

There are several ways to do this:

a. Send Tribal representation to meet with the conservation district board on a regular basis and request that present reservation resource problems be addressed and be included in the priorities of the district.

b. Following state conservation district law, circulate petitions and elect Tribal members to the existing conservation district boards.

c. Provide newly elected Tribal conservation board representatives with training on how district boards function and how to play an active role in the meetings and the decision making process.

d. Tribal governments may support participation of the newly elected Indian board members by encouraging them to attend the State and National Association of Conservation Districts meetings in order to gain greater understanding of districts programs, cooperating agencies and organizations.

PROS Becomes an educational process for individuals representing the Tribe and the Tribe as well on the function of a conservation district.

No cost to the Tribe.

CONS A voting board membership is not guaranteed.

Problems getting all eligible voters registered as the eligible voting list is normally maintained in the county clerk and recorders office.

Must share time and availability of NRCS personnel with the whole district.



Tribal governing bodies have the option of organizing a reservation conservation district under state code. In this option the district is formed under state statute and is operated under that authority. A certain amount of funds may be made available by the state for the operation of the district. These districts are fully recognized by all levels of state and federal agencies and may enter into a Cooperative Working Agreement with USDA-NRCS, and other agencies and organizations for technical and financial assistance. The pros and cons for Tribes to consider fully before entering into

this option are:

PROS A reservation district’s long range plans (and subsequent technical assistance) will address the resource problems on your reservation.

May result in a higher level of technical assistance from NRCS than in the past.

May receive state funds for district operation.

CONS May have potential conflict between state codes and Tribal regulations.

Some might see this approach as an encroachment on Tribal sovereignty.


1. The Tribe would petition the state conservation agency for removal from the existing district or districts, which encompass the reservation.

2. The Tribe would petition the state conservation agency to form one or more conservation districts. The Tribe may choose to form just one reservation-wide district.

3. Tribes use the state election procedures to elect a board of supervisors made up of reservation landowners, individuals leasing reservation land and other qualified candidates residing within the newly established district boundaries.



Tribes have the option of forming a conservation district for their reservation through Tribal law. In this option, local Tribal members have the right to make decisions on how their conservation programs operate, what the conservation priorities are, and determine what level of technical and financial assistance is needed. Districts organized under Tribal code also provide for long-term stability in the management of reservation resources in contrast to the fluctuation resulting from Tribal politics from one term to the next. It also adds stability in the turnover of NRCS personnel servicing the reservation. Again there are pros and cons of this

option to be considered:

PROS Gives Tribal members a voice in the operation of the district and establishing district policy.

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