Conservation District celebrates 70 years of resource conservation

Clouds of dust darken the sky over Heath in this photo taken from the old gypsum plant there. Conservation districts were created partly as a response to the problems of the dust bowl.            
Photo courtesy of Loyd Bowen

Fergus Conservation District is celebrating its 70th year, having been formed on July 12, 1946. The District’s work is to fulfill the state’s policy to conserve soil, water and other natural resources of the state.  

Montana passed the conservation district law in 1939 to provide for local control of natural resource management programs and activities, and now has 58 conservation districts.

Conservation districts are political subdivisions of the state, and governed by a board of supervisors. The Fergus Conservation District Board consists of seven supervisors from different areas in Fergus County: Denton, Moore, Grass Range, Winifred, upper and lower Spring Creek, plus an urban supervisor.

Some of the major activities in which the conservation district is or has been involved over the past 20 years include: 

The 310 Law:  The Natural Streambed and Land Preservation Act, also known as the “The 310 Law,” is administered by the conservation districts in Montana. Any work done on the banks or bed of a stream is required to have an approved 310 permit before construction begins. A site inspection is conducted to inspect the site to make sure the integrity of the stream is maintained. This law has been in effect since 1975. Contact Fergus Conservation District to apply for a 310 permit.  

Water Quality:  The conservation district conducted a well monitoring project to check domestic wells for nitrates in the Wolverine Creek area. Also, a baseline well monitoring project was completed for areas that could be impacted by gas and oil development in Fergus County.

Fergus Conservation District secured funds to help restore part of Big Spring Creek straightened in the 1960s. This project will put meanders back in that stretch of the stream. The project has been in the works for many years and will finally get started this October, north of town on Big Spring Creek. This is a partnership with many other agencies.

The Fergus Conservation District started the Big Spring Watershed Partnership to help get funding for all the phases of working on Big Spring Creek and its tributaries. Many rural landowners served on the Watershed Council then, which since has been run by a more urban group.

The conservation district had two phases of working on the tributaries of Big Spring Creek and also on the main channel of Big Spring Creek for riparian management started in the late 80s. The Brewery Flats area was started with grant money from the District, feasibility studies were done and the project was completed with the help of many agencies.

The conservation district was also a partner in the rehabilitation of Carter Ponds. The ponds were leaking and the district applied for and received grants to help restore them, creating a good fishing area for the town of Lewistown. 

The district was a partner in cleaning the sediment out of the Frog Ponds when they were so full of sediment the fisheries were at a standstill.  This is another valuable fishing site, as it is right in Lewistown. 

An artesian well project was another major project, installing frostless hydrants and curb stops on flowing artesian wells in Fergus County, and saving many gallons of water.

Weed Projects: The district also sponsored a program to teach cows to eat noxious weeds. The district also collected and distributed flea beetles to attack the leafy spurge. 

 Fire Mitigation Project: This program was started in 2000 with the Fergus Conservation District, although the district is no longer involved with this program.

Trail Activities: If you did not know it, Fergus Conservation District was instrumental in getting the trail system started, working with the Montana Conservation Corp and helping them financially, plus purchasing the first bridge for the trail.

Education Activities: The Montana Envirothon State competition has been held in Lewistown for the past 21 years. This is a natural resource competition for high school students from across the state, and is coordinated by the Fergus Conservation District Administrator, Shonny Nordlund.  

The Fergus Conservation District also sponsors educational mini-grants for schools and adult educational activities in Fergus County. In addition, the district also sponsors students from Fergus County to attend Range Days, the Natural Resource Youth Camp at Lubrecht and be on teams to the Envirothon Competition. 

In the older days, the speech contest for high school students was a big event for the district, along with a poster contest for grade school students. Also, the living snow fence west of town was another major project for the conservation district.  

The district has been very involved in many different areas of Fergus County for the past 70 years and continues to be engaged in the work of natural resource conservation.

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