Indiana’s soil and water conservation leaders are exploring significant changes to the funding and organization of the state’s conservation efforts.
The Conservation Beyond 2016 Task Force was created several months ago in response to what it says were concerns over drops in conservation district funding. Much of the money comes from counties. But over the last four years, funding has stagnated or decreased in more than 40 percent of Hoosier counties.
Jim Lake is a district support specialist for the state department of agriculture and a member of the task force. He says the funding issues aren’t only at the local level. Most of the state funding for conservation districts comes from the cigarette tax.
“Obviously, for health reasons, it’s a good thing that less people are smoking,” says Lake. “But the trend in cigarette tax dollars is also a downward trend.”
The task force created three recommendations: increased collaboration and resource-sharing between counties, collaboration based on watersheds rather than counties, and consolidating conservation districts into larger areas based not on county lines but watersheds. The task force is now looking for feedback with the goal of having a recommendation to the State Soil Conservation Board within the next six to eight months.
At that point, the soil conservation board will use pilot programs in districts around the state before expanding the recommendation statewide.