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The 2018 Race That Is Getting Little Attention

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A number of familiar names and offices are on the 2018 midterm election ballot, and there are those 6 amendments everybody is talking about.   What is likely not so familiar are the county races for  Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor.   If you haven’t heard about it, you are not alone.  BPR’s Helen Chickering reports. 

It’s a sunny weekday, and the parking lot of the North Asheville Library on Merrimon Avenue is full of activity.  This is an early voting site. There are signs everywhere and voters and political party volunteers are scattered around the lot.

“I’m here volunteering today with the Sierra Club, " says a volunteer. 

“I’m here today to support the Republican candidates for Buncombe County,” notes another volunteer.

Almost everyone had something to say about the issues and candidates, until we asked about the race for Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor.

“That’s something I’m not real familiar with.  That would be a question for the environmental guy today. “

“Well, actually, you are asking the wrong person. Sierra Club did not endorse anyone in the Soil and Water District and I don’t know why.”

“Well, I knew it existed and I like clean water and I love gardens, but I don’t know what they do.”

“We’ve been talking for years that we’re the best kept secrets, which is really sad,” says Bryan Evans, Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Evans says the Conservation Supervisor Candidates don’t get much attention during campaign season – and the fact that candidate names end up on the back of the ballot doesn’t help either

“It always wind up being above any constitutional amendment, so unfortunately, what we often see is people often vote for first two names on the ballot. “ says Evans.

And that’s concerning, says Evans, because each district, and North Carolina has 96 of them, does important work. All but one is governed by a five member board of  which works as a  subdivision of state government and works with state, federal,  public and private partners to promote the conservation and improvement of the soil, water, wildlife,  forest and other natural resources - everything from managing storm water to preventing erosion to hosting environmental education programs.  Members are non-partisan, unpaid and elected to four year terms.

“And too, I always have to plug, the first soil and water district in the United States was formed in North Carolina, “says Evans, “So we kind of go back to our heritage on that.”  

It happened back in the 1930s, during the Dust Bowl days.    A soil scientist from Anson County, North Carolina named  Hugh Hammond Bennett was working with the  U.S. Department of Agriculture and was concerned   about soil erosion on farms.                                                                                       

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Credit USDA
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Hugh Hammond Bennett, "Father of Soil Conservation"

“And North Carolina native Hugh Hammond Bennett went to Congress  and  petitioned to get Congress involved in protecting natural resources, primarily at that time centered around soil, but his whole idea  and  the whole concept  behind soil and water districts  is to provide a grass roots conservation initiative on a very local level,” says Evans, “Soil and Water Conservation Districts exist across the nation, but North Carolina is probably one of the stronger states for Soil and Water Conservation Districts”

A strong program with a rich North Carolina history - that not many voters know about.  For BPR news, I’m Helen Chickering.   

You can find the candidate information at the State Board of Elections website.   

The Candidates for Buncombe County Soil & Water Conservation District Board participated in a forum.  You can find a link to the video here.  

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.