Courtest PhotoCourtesy Photo

Conservation 80th anniversary

In 1937, the SD Legislature passed the District Law, authorizing the formation of Soil Conservation Districts at the local level by local people to encourage the wise use of our natural resources. This led to the birth of the the Haakon County Conservation District, as the following year a small group of farmers and ranchers in the area began a movement toward the formation of such a district. Among the leaders of this movement were; ME Bierwagen, Leo J. Staben, Nels C. Eckwald, Jay C. Williams, and Guy H. Waldo.
With the assistance of the Extension Service, 438,666 acres across the mid-section of the county were organized into a district in 1943, after a 6-1 favorable vote of the landowners. ME Bierwagen, and Guy Waldo were the first two supervisors appointed by the State Conservation Committee. Jay Williams, Nels Eckwald, and Leo Staben were the first 3 elected members to the original board of supervisors. 
Two areas were added to the original district after a 2/3 majority vote by the land owners. The northeast area of the county, comprising of 177,211 acres, joined the district in 1946, and the south half, amounting to 545,723 acres joined in 1950, bringing in the remainder of the county for a total of 1,161,600 acres. 
There was considerable opposition to district formation in the south half of the county. Some came from large, independent ranchers who indicated they didn’t need any help with their practices and wanted to keep Federal spending down. Other opposition arose from misinformation and misunderstanding of district purpose and objectives. 
Grass was the main resource found by early settlers and through the absence of information on good management practices, or ignoring what information there was available, led to much unwise land use that magnified the effects of the drought in the thirties, setting the economy back to even a greater degree.
The erratic rainfall pattern, from practically none to heavy downpours, created several erosion problems when combined with the tight clay soils slow to take water. They wash easily, which proved to be the greater problem, and they are subject to blowing when dry and bare. At the time of district formation, many gullies existed mainly in the steeper rangeland of the Cheyenne and Bad River drainages. Most of the natural water holes used for stock water were being cut out or silted in, due to the overgrazed condition around them and to erosion from cropland broken for farming by early settlers. Some stock dams had been built to replace the creek-bed water holes and to better distribute grazing, but farmers and ranchers indicated a need for help in designing and building dams. Assistance was also needed and requested for developing farming methods to control erosion and conserve moisture on sloping farmland and establish water spreading systems on native hay bottoms to build up feed reserves for dry years.
Several farmers had tried widely spaced furrows for range improvement and established terraces and contour farming for erosion control, but these instances were few and far between and help was needed for layout and improvement of these practices. 
The cropping pattern did not include fallow and farming and was done with a moldboard plow and disc that destroyed surface cover, subjecting the fields to blowing. In the early 1940’s, ME Bierwagen and Leo Staben, of Milesville, began conserving moisture by summer fallowing with sub-surface implements, which left stubble near the surface for wind erosion protection. 
The 1970’s brought problems to Haakon County, but they certainly weren’t new problems: blowing dust, lack of rain, soil cover and erosion. The answer to some of these problems came in the form of seeding unsuitable cropland to grass, development of water sources, reduction of soil erosion through fencing for better livestock management, planting of shelter belts, etc. 
Some other methods of conservation at the time were: contour furrowing – a process of opening the soil allowing additional moisture to enter the soil; perennial grass barrier systems - planting tall wheat grass at 30-60 ft. intervals, allowing for almost double the storage efficiency of soil water than that of crop fallow, non-barrier plots; conservation tillage - leaving protective amounts of mulch on the surface; planting of shelterbelts to provide protection from drifting and blowing snow, reduce fuel costs, reduce wind velocity, and add beautification to the land; and irrigation and pipeline installation increased water efficiency in pastures. 
Some examples of accomplishments for the Haakon County Conservation District in 1978 are the Six Great Plains Program funded; 27,616 linear feet of terraces; 1,490 acres of wind strip cropping; 1,285 acres of rangeland grass seedings; 65 acres of shelterbelt plantings; 6 stockdams; 175 acres of waterspreading; 3,200 acres of pasture and hayland plantings. 
In the 1990’s, research was done with tree plots to see which trees grow best in the different soils of Haakon County. Trees were planted in 7 sites throughout Haakon County. Fabric weed barrier was used and rubber tires were placed on every other tree in the Rocky Mountain Juniper and Eastern Red Cedar rows to see what difference they provided for protection and increased survival and growth rates. With all the research done on these tree plots, the district made recommendations to producers on what trees grow best, and different methods for planting those trees. 
In 1996 it was decided that the Haakon County Conservation District would print their newsletter, The Conservation Courier, 4 times a year to help residents be more informed of what the Conservation District is all about. 
The Upper Bad River Watershed Quality Improvement and Demonstration Project began in 1995 and ended in 2000. The goal of the project was to heighten the awareness of the citizens of the Bad, White and Cheyenne River Watersheds of the values of best management practices, to improve and maintain water quality, reduce runoff, and sustain the resources of the area and to develop interest of the local citizens in developing watershed projects, to treat non-point water quality problems in 3 major watersheds. 
The district also acted as a sponsor for the Waggoner Lake Watershed Assessment Project from 2000-2005. This project was to determine what sources of impairment were to Waggoner Lake and the small tributaries, which ultimately drain into the Bad River, and how to go about restoring Waggoner Lake. 
Haakon County Conservation District has provided services, products, and equipment to customers to aide in their conservation efforts. At this time, the district offers: tree sales, planning, planting, and technical assistance; fabric weed barrier & installation services; deer repellent, flags, maps, and other various items to assist with tree planting. Throughout the years, the District has played an active role in education for all ages, to encourage interest and participation in conservation, and an appreciation of nature. Some of the activities have included: tree plantings in the community by students in celebration of Arbor Day; hosting essay, poster, and speech contests; classroom activities to educate students on conservation; a living outdoor classroom at the school; a butterfly garden at the kiddie park; hosting or sponsoring students to attend range camps/rangeland days; assisting with the Women in Science programs, putting on water festivals, and much more.
In recent years, the District also hosted an awards banquet, with 5 awards given to local families/individuals who are nominated by others in the community  for their dedication to conservation of our natural resources, and commitment to continually improving our community. Award recipients receive a photo of their farm, ranch, or homestead in canvas form, and a supper in their honor is served. This is held annually in December and has been a well-attended event that the District enjoys hosting.
Currently the District Board of Supervisors consists of: TJ Gabriel, Chairman; Fred Foland, Vice Chairman; Bill Gottsleben; Nick Hamill; and Gavin Brucklacher.

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
Telephone: (605) 859-2516
E Mail:

Sign Up For Breaking News

Stay informed on our latest news!

Manage my subscriptions

Subscribe to Newsletter feed
Comment Here