Technical Assistance: The Engine of Conservation
By Douglas Helms
Creation of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), predecessor to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), capped Hugh Hammond Bennett’s campaign to make soil conservation a central tenet of national agricultural policy. The agency’s organizational structure strongly emphasized local field offices, where the staff trained in conservation could work directly with farmers, ranchers, and other land owners. This network of conservationists employed throughout rural America was critical to implementing the array of conservation programs enacted by Congress over time. The funding for a considerable portion of these field office operations is appropriated under the Conservation Operations line item, specifically for “Conservation Technical Assistance.” The following history provides a window onto SCS’ and later NRCS’s delivery of assistance to land owners, and how new legislation and programs influenced the conservation operations.