The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) is celebrating the 59th year of Stewardship week April 27 – May 4, 2014. The 2014 Stewardship Week is themed, “DIG DEEPER: Mysteries in the soil.”
"Soil is an essential natural resource that all of us depend on each and every day," says NACD President Earl Garber. "The Dust Bowl of the 1930s showed our nation the importance of conservation practices. Farmers and ranchers who have experienced recent droughts know that conservation practices are critical in helping their soil endure, even in the most challenging weather events."
According to the NACD website, soil nurtures life and death; it is the foundation of cities, forests and oceans and feeds all terrestrial life on Earth. It is a substance that few people understand and most take for granted, and it is arguably one of the Earth’s most critical natural resources.
Stewardship Week is one of the largest national annual programs to promote conservation and is designed to recognize the work of not only conservation districts and local and state governments but also private landowners who contribute to both water and soil conservation.
“Texas farmers and ranchers have a long history of voluntarily conserving the natural resources entrusted to them,” said Kirby Brown, Ducks Unlimited conservation outreach biologist. “Today, they produce more food, fuel and fiber on fewer acres using no more water than was used in the 1950s.”
In Texas, Ducks Unlimited has partnered with the Association of Texas Soil & Water Conservation Districts (ATSWCD), Texas Wildlife Association and Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board to highlight the important connection between voluntary land stewardship and sustaining water availability.
“This campaign aims to bring more awareness and support to voluntary land stewardship, because the way resources are managed on private lands directly impacts the water resources available for public consumption,” Brown said.
Due to the prolonged drought in Texas, many of the state’s farmers and ranchers have sought to aggressively adopt innovative technologies and on-farm conservation practices to combat the impacts of drought and improve profitability. Some of these conservation practices, like those put into place through the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project, provide a great benefit to Texas’ water resources but can be very costly to landowners.
“Voluntary land stewardship is an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable way to ‘create’ more water for homes, businesses, recreation, agriculture, and wildlife,” said Johnny Ussery, chair of the stewardship committee for the ATSWCD.
Soil and water conservation performed in urban areas can also help supplement land stewardship efforts in rural ones.
“Urban Texans can become involved by practicing effective land stewardship at home and in their neighborhoods, schools and businesses,” Ussery said. “Small efforts, such as using plants in our home landscaping that require little water, can add up to major water conservation when practiced by millions of people across the state.”
Ussery says effective land stewardship increases the ability of open land to absorb rainfall, replenish aquifers, and ensure that water drains slowly and steadily into springs, streams, rivers and lakes – reducing run-off and helping to prevent flooding. Voluntary stewardship practices include things such as prescribed grazing management by ranchers, the use of cover crops by farmers, wildlife habitat enhancement, and the targeted removal of invasive brush species.
In addition to Ducks Unlimited, partnering organizations in the "Land Stewardship: Providing Water for Texans"  public awareness campaign include the Nature Conservancy of Texas, Texas A&M AgriLife's Texas Water Resources Institute, Texas A&M Forest Service, Texas Agricultural Land Trust, Texas Department of Agriculture, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, Texas Coalition Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, Texas Association of Dairymen, South Texans’ Property Rights Association, Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas, South Texas Cotton and Grain Association, Texas Forestry Association, Texas HORSE, Texas Deer Association, Plains Cotton Growers, Inc., Texas Poultry Federation, Texas Corn Producers, Texas Wheat Producers Board and Association, Taking Care of Texas, Trinity Waters, Texas Pork Producers Association, Quail Coalition, Plateau Land & Wildlife Management, and Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society.