Monday, September 27, 2010

Waist Deep in the Big Muddy

The mailroom here at Fraters Libertas World HQ has been deluged in the last few days with a flood of inquiries asking when we will publish our official endorsements for the hotly contested 2010 Soil and Water Conservation District races. Our mailroom intern has barely been able to keep up with the volume and risks becoming completely swamped unless we respond to the public's demand. (By the way Atomizer, after you're done with today's mail run, we need you to sanitize Saint Paul's executive washroom ASAP. He may love Thai food, but the feeling's definitely not mutual.)

Since Sisyphus knows more about the local Soil and Water Conservation races than anyone outside of Michael Barone, we'll leave the formal Fraters Libertas endorsements to him. However, I will boldly break with tradition and personally endorse Ryan Love for Scott County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor in District 4. You have to like a guy with the campaign slogan of "We need Love in our government" and more importantly, Mr. Love has retweeted a couple of my Twitter nuggets. He may have been a bearded Marxist in a previous life, but anyone willing to show me a little love on Twitter deserves my support (you had your chance Representative Winkler).

All this renewed interest in Soil and Water Conservation Districts naturally leads to questions.

What the hell is a SWCD anyway?

SWCDs are local units of government that manage and direct natural resource management programs at the local level. Districts work in both urban and rural settings, with landowners and with other units of government, to carry out a program for the conservation, use, and development of soil, water, and related resources.

One crucial niche districts fill is that of providing soil and water conservation services to owners of private lands. Privately owned lands make up 78 percent of the land surface in Minnesota. Managing these private lands, whether agriculture, forest, lakes, or urban, is key to Minnesota's quality of life.

Minnesotans trust SWCDs to provide needed technology, funding and educational services because they are established in each community, governed by local leaders and focused on conservation of local soil and water resources.

Sure. Were it not for the 450 SWCD supervisors, Minnesota would be one giant dust bowl. Which incidentally, is how the whole started in the first place:

The first SWCD in Minnesota - the Burns-Homer-Pleasant district, later renamed the Winona SWCD--was created in 1938 in response to the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. Also known as the "dirty thirties," intensive farming during a time of drought allowed high winds to erode the landscape and carry clouds of dust from the Great Plains all the way to Washington, D.C. Districts were subsequently developed across the country to encourage landowners to alter their farming techniques in order to more wisely use our soil and water resources. Over the years, soil and water conservation districts expanded their focuses beyond agriculture to also provide assistance in forested, lakes and urban areas of their communities. Districts have also expanded their base of clientele to include not only private landowners, but also other units of government such as counties, cities, townships and watershed districts.

A government program that started during the New Deal that expanded its scope and scale since then? How unique.

I also wonder what's so special about soil and water. Other than being indispensible ingredients for making mud that is. Why don't we have air conservation districts? Isn't the air we breathe important enough to warrant electing a government official to oversee? Who's going to make sure that the air is being spread around equitably?

Sure there's the EPA, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Health, and a myarid of local government groups and organizations that in some way or another already are busy ensuring the quality of our air, but is it really enough? Is it ever?

SISYPHUS ADDS: The endorsements are coming! The exhaustive googling that goes into generating the Fraters Libertas SWCD Supervisor endorsements takes considerable time. However, the Hennepin County endorsements (with a bonus This Week in Gatekeeping!) should be ready in the next few days, with more counties to follow.