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State conservation leaders explore major changes

Brandon Smith
Indiana Public Broadcasting

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% of Hoosier counties. 

Jim Lake is a district support specialist for the Indiana 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,” Lake said. “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. 

State Soil Conservation Board Chairman Larry Clemens says the task force will now reach out to county officials, district employees and conservation leaders around the state to get feedback on the three options.

“I’d like to have a recommendation that the State Soil Conservation Board starts to experiment with within the next six to eight months,” Clemens said.

Clemens says he wants to see a final recommendation 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.