The mission of the West Virginia Conservation Agency is to preserve West Virginia’s natural resources by working with partners to promote soil and water conservation.
In the early 1930’s, the nation was experiencing an unparalleled ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl. Following a severe and sustained drought in the Great Plains, the region’s soil began to erode and blow away. This created enormous black dust storms that blotted out the sun and swallowed the countryside. Thousands known as “dust refugees” fled the area to seek better lives.
On Capitol Hill, while testifying about the erosion problem, soil scientist Hugh Hammond Bennett threw back the curtains to reveal a sky blackened by dust. Bennett’s testimony moved Congress to unanimously pass legislation declaring soil and water conservation a national policy and priority.
Bennett would found and head the Soil Conservation Service, now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Since about three-fourths of the continental United States is privately owned, Congress realized that only active, voluntary support from landowners would guarantee the success of conservation work on private land.
In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote the governors of all the states recommending legislation that would allow local landowners to form soil conservation districts. West Virginia’s Soil Conservation Committee was created in 1939. Its functions and programs were to conserve soil and retard erosion.
By referendum, the first conservation district organized in West Virginia was the West Fork Conservation District on February 2, 1940. The Eastern Panhandle and Greenbrier Valley Conservation Districts followed on February 3, 1940. Today, West Virginia has 14 Conservation Districts, each consisting of one to six counties.
In 2002, the state Legislature changed the name of the “Soil Conservation Committee” to “State Conservation Committee” to show that the committee’s responsibilities went beyond soil to all natural resources such as air and water. The State Conservation Committee serves as the governing body of the WVCA.