Conservation District Law
It is essential that all Board members have a working knowledge of the Conservation District Law to fulfill their responsibility as a public official.
Conservation District Law Intent
- To provide for the conservation of the soil, water and related resources of this Commonwealth.
- To designate conservation districts as a primary local government unit responsible for the conservation of natural resources in this Commonwealth.
- To authorize and encourage conservation districts to work in close cooperation with landowners and occupiers, agencies of Federal and State Government, other local and county government units and other entities identified and approved by the State Conservation Commission (SCC).
Role of SCC
The State Conservation Commission provides support, funding, administration and oversight of conservation districts, directors and staff and other cooperating organizations and individuals.
State Conservation Commission
The State Conservation Commission is made up of:
- Rotating Chairs Secretary of Department of Environmental Protection & Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
- Dean of the College of Agriculture of the Pennsylvania State University
- Four farmer members
- Two Public Members
- Associate Members (non-voting) include:
- The State Conservationist of the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA
- The Associate Director of the Cooperative Extension Service of the Pennsylvania State University
- The President of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, Inc.
- The Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources or a designee
- The Secretary of Community and Economic Development or a designee
SCC Duties and Powers
In addition to the duties and powers herein conferred upon the commission, it shall have the following duties and powers:
- To offer such training, assistance and certification
- To approve and coordinate the programs, projects, funding and standards of the conservation districts
- To approve applications for projects and recommend priorities
- To approve and monitor the delegation of and contracting for certain functions and powers to districts
- To review fees for services established by conservation districts
- To develop, implement and enforce programs which meet the purposes of the Conservation District Law (Act 217)
- To keep the directors informed
- To secure the cooperation and assistance of any governmental agency
- To disseminate information concerning the activities and programs of the conservation districts
- To accept contributions of money, services or materials
- To designate county nominating organizations
- To provide assistance through conservation districts to municipal environmental advisory councils
- To receive such funds as appropriated, given, granted or donated to the SCC
Matters Requiring SCC Approval
- Allocations and reallocations for the Conservation District Fund Allocation Program
- Allocations and program direction for the Chesapeake Bay Nonpoint Pollution Program and other nonpoint source pollution programs implemented in whole or in part under the Commission’s legal authority
- Entering into contracts, when the estimated project cost exceeds $250,000
- The format for contracts or agreements for the Landowner Reclamation Program Public Law 566 projects
- Resource Conservation and Development Program project areas
- Contributions to a conservation district, of any character and from any source, unless the funding is from another governmental agency, or unless specifically authorized under Act 217 (i.e. the purchase, exchange, lease, gift, or grant of any real property).
- Memoranda of Understanding when any State or Federal agency is party to the memoranda
- The addition or deletion of organizations from the list approved to nominate district directors
- Increases or decreases in the number of directors on a district board
- Changes in the composition of the board of directors
- Conservation district long-range work programs
- A district’s acceptance of any authority delegated by municipal or county governments, the Commonwealth or the Federal government
- Other federal programs requiring Commission approval
Matters Requiring Commission Notification
Commission approval is not required for the following matters; however, notification of the Commission is required.
- Memoranda of Understanding and/or other formal agreements between the district and county agencies or local municipalities
- Appointment of district directors
- District’s annual program of work
- District’s annual budget and financial report
- District audit
Pennsylvania’s first districts were formed in 1945 under the authority of the Conservation District Law (Act 217).
This Act was later amended in 1978/1979 and then again 1995 and most recently in 2008.
Function of a Conservation District
To take available technical, financial, and educational resources, whatever their source, and focus or coordinate them so that they meet the needs of the local land user for conservation of soil, water, and related natural resources.
Functions & Powers – Operational
- Each district is a political subdivision of the state government
- Employ personnel necessary to properly conduct the operations of the District
- Cooperate or enter into agreements
- Acquire property or interests therein
- Borrow and invest money
- Make available material or equipment to assist with the effective conservation and utilization of soil resources
- Construct, improve, and maintain such structures and facilities
Functions & Powers – Operational (cont.)
- Accept, upon approval by the State Conservation Commission, any authority delegated by municipal or county governments, the Commonwealth or Federal Government
- Sue and be sued in the name of the district
- Require contributions in money, services, materials or otherwise as a condition to extending benefits under this act
- Enter into negotiations with state agencies concerning fee schedules
- Enter into a contract or agreement with federal, state, county or local governments for work performed or services rendered by the district.
Functions & Powers – Operational (cont.)
- Be exempt from provisions applied to other public bodies with respect to the acquisition, operation or disposition of property
- Any motions made and acted on at a public meeting are part of the public record
- Accept contributions with the consent and approval of the State Conservation Commission
- Sponsor projects and other federal programs.
- Enter public or private property to make such inspections to the authority has been delegated to a district by the department
- Establish a program of assistance to environmental advisory councils.
Functions & Powers – Natural Resources Management
- Conduct surveys, investigations and research
- Devise and implement preventative & control measures on any lands with written consent of the owner and occupier of such lands
- Assist and advise owners and occupiers of land in developing and/or implementing plans for storm water mgt., soil erosion, water pollution control, etc.
- Assist and advise county and municipal governments in subdivision and land development
- Engage in natural resource programs approved by the Commission
- Conduct educational programs and publish related educational materials
District Board of Directors
- Conservation district directors are appointed by the county commissioners to serve on a 7-9 member board
- Submitted by approved nominating organization and appointed by the County Governing body for 4 year terms
- Consists of farmers members, public members and a member of County Governing Body
- Directors shall serve without pay unless approved by the SCC
- The Board shall elect a Chair, Vice-chair, Secretary and Treasurer
- A majority of voting members will constitute a quorum
District Board of Directors – Director Replacement
- Directors that are absent from meetings three or more times per year may be removed from the board
- Directors may be removed for misfeasance or malfeasance
- Each Board decides which programs and services to offer their community
- Establish/implement programs to protect & conserve soil, water and other renewable natural resources on local, non-federal land
- Identify local conservation needs
- Develop, implement, evaluate strategic plan to meet those needs
- Develop vision and mission
- Set goals & priorities
- Hire staff to carry out programs/plans
Powers Not Granted to Conservation Districts
A conservation district does NOT have the powers of taxation, police or eminent domain that are normally associated with a subdivision of state government.