The first thing that springs to mind at the mention of the Northumberland County Conservation District (NCCD) is agriculture.

It's a natural connection, and certainly the organization has a lot to do with farming. But there is so much more to the NCCD and its goals, to the point where it is among the agencies that are perhaps most vital to our future.

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Conservation districts are in the news recently for the same reason other government-funded entities are: budget disputes. In this case, conservation districts are transitioning from a line item within the state budget to receiving funding tied to the Act 13 impact fees from natural gas drilling.

How that will pan out for conservation districts is a matter of debate, but state Sen. John Gordner, R-27, provided details at NCCD's legislative luncheon Thursday that suggest the pot of dollars will, in fact, grow.

That would be beneficial, considering the many facets of conservation district work that touch our lives daily.

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Conservation districts were born to help alleviate the soil erosion crisis of the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s, and NCCD has existed since 1943. Such groups have grown to serve a much greater variety of issues, working with contractors, municipalities, watershed organizations and the general public in addressing erosion and sedimentation control, polluted waterways, environmental education, nutrient management, land preservation and watershed protection.

Those issues tie the conservation district to everything from fishing to boating and home building, from the construction of new roads to the rehabilitation of abandoned mines.

On that latter topic, NCCD is working with the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area under development near Shamokin, where mine and stream reclamation are part of the larger park development. NCCD's role will include having staff serve on committees and helping find grant money for rehabilitation work. Within the larger scope of what NCCD does, helping the coal region end of its service area recover from the scars of coal mining is among its most important functions.

All this takes place within NCCD, we point out, with just five full-time employees.

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The local district is fortunate to have the support of the county commissioners, who continue to contribute to the organization while other counties have cut that funding stream. The county gives more, in fact, to NCCD than the state. Last fiscal year, it was $90,000 versus $60,000.

That is a wise investment in dollars, and funding conservation districts should remain an important budget consideration, locally and statewide, as the demand for services that impact all of us continues to rise.