STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA

PRELIMINARY PERFORMANCE REVIEW OF THE

State Soil Conservation Committee

Committee's Impact to Soil Erosion

Satisfactory Meeting Attendance

Representation Should Be Added

Compliance with Open Meetings Laws

Committee Should Be Continued


Background

    West Virginia's Soil Conservation Committee (Committee) was created in 1939, its functions and programs are to conserve soil and retard erosion. The Committee was mandated to develop and provide assistance to soil conservation districts within the State. Seven members make up the Committee. Three are appointed by the Governor, the other four serve ex officio. They are the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, who serves as chair; the Director of the Division of Environmental Protection; the Director of the State Cooperative Extension Service; and the Director of the State Agricultural Experiment Station. In addition, an advisory member from the United States Department of Agriculture serves on the Committee. Terms of appointed members are four years and the Committee meets quarterly. Currently there are 14 districts in West Virginia ranging in size from one to six counties.

The Committee's duties as stated in 19-21A-4(d) of the West Virginia Code are as follows:

Issue Area 1: The State Soil Conservation Committee's Impact to Soil Erosion in West Virginia.

    The main goal of the State Soil Conservation Committee is implied in its name. Originating out of the ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl as a grass roots effort to improve and stabilize farmland in the United States. There are 14 local soil conservation committees in West Virginia and approximately 3,000 across the United States. Various programs focusing on cultivated cropland, non-cultivated cropland and pastureland are used to prevent erosion and enhance farming.

   Therefore, one of the measures of effectiveness for this agency would be the level of erosion in the state. Soil erosion is measured in tons lost per acre per year, with longitudinal. The various programs operating under the Committee have logical relationships to the conservation of soil. Although the causal rigor of the programs to the measures of soil erosion are limited in this preliminary review, the Legislative Auditor believes there is enough prima facie evidence to support the success of the program. The state has experienced little change overall in the average of tons per acre of erosion since 1987 (see Table 1). Data for soil erosion is collected at certain points throughout the state in areas of different land use. These monitoring collection points use instruments that measure the deposition of sediment. The data is then applied to a series of equations to determine overall erosion.

Table 1

Land Use Erosion Trend in Tons Per Acre Per Year, 1982-1997



Land Use


1982


1987


1992


1997
Weighted

Average*

Cultivated Cropland

7.06


9.29


4.68


4.37


6.57
Non-Cultivated Cropland



0.74




0.89




0.83




0.76




0.80
Pastureland 4.18 5.41 6.12 6.06 5.38
Conservation Reserve Program



0




0.69




0.28




0




0.49
Weighted Average*

3.55


4.46


4.52


4.40


4.21

*The weighted average reflects the fact that there is more acreage in some land use categories than others.

   However, if one looks at cultivated cropland and pastureland, one notices a substantial increase in the tons per acre of soil lost due to erosion from 1982 to 1987 and a further increase in 1992 for pastureland. In the case of cultivated cropland, the reason for this increase the the tons per acre is the increased farming of highly erodible land. The 1985 Farm Bill required farmers who cultivate such land to have an approved conservation plan if they wish to be eligible for farm program benefits from the government. These conservation provisions from the 1985 Farm Bill became effective January 1, 1990, however, farmers began implementing their approved conservation plans in 1987 and 1988 so when the next series of erosion data was gathered in 1992 a reduction in the tons per acre was seen. This reduction of erosion was continued, albeit at a smaller amount, in the erosion data that was collected in 1997.

   In the case of pastureland, increased amounts of erosion continued until the 1992 series of data. According to the West Virginia Soil Conservation Agency, demand for pastureland increased in the late 1980s when there was a change from cattle farming that focused on brood and dairy cattle to cattle farming that focuses on beef cattle. This increased the number of cattle on the state's pastureland as well as the physical demand made on the land which led to increased levels of erosion. The increased erosion on the states pastureland has led to various programs that have helped in enabling best management practices to be implemented and thus reduce the rate of erosion on pastureland.

Conclusion

   The State Soil Conservation Committee acts as a cooperator and facilitator of federal farm programs. In regard to federal farm programs, they act as a go between for the federal government in getting the word out to the farmers in the state by providing technical assistance on how to improve farming techniques in order to qualify for benefits from such programs. Also, the Committee, through its State Soil Conservation Agency sets up model farms throughout the state in order to teach other farmers best farming techniques. Apparently, these programs are working since they have stemmed the rising rate of erosion that have taken place in cultivated cropland and pastureland throughout the state. From the data mentioned above, the erosion rate for these areas are starting to decline.

Recommendation 1:

The State Soil Conservation Committee should continue to work on reducing the rate of overall erosion to 1982 levels or better and emphasize on reducing the erosion rate for pastureland to 1982 levels or better.

Issue Area 2: The State Soil Conservation Committee Has Satisfactory Meeting Attendance.

   Minutes from the Committee's quarterly meetings from January 1998 to July 1999 were reviewed to determine if an acceptable level of attendance to such meetings exists. The meeting minutes showed that the Committee had an overall attendance rate of 88% for the period reviewed. The three citizen members of the committee had an attendance rate of 81%. The ex officio members attendance rate was 61%, 93% when proxies are included. Every meeting had a quorum with no meeting missing more than two members (see Table 2).

Table 2

Committee Membership Attendance

Members Present/Dates 01/98 04/98 07/98 10/98 01/99 04/99 07/99
Gus Douglas, Chairman WVDA X X X X X X  
Dr. Rosemary Haggett, WVU Agriculture and Forestry X P P X P X P
John Caffrey/Michael Miano/ Director WVDEP P P P   P P P
Dr. Lawrence Cote WVU Cooperative Extension Service X X X X X X X
Bethel Childers, Citizen Member   X X       X
Boyd Meadows Citizen Member X X X X X X X
Joe Michael, Citizen Member X X X X X X X
William Hartman, USDA Advisory Member X X X X X X X

X=present; P= present by proxy

Issue Area 3: Representation from the Division of Forestry Should Be Added the Membership of the State Soil Conservation Committee.

The Legislature may wish to consider adding the Director of the Division of Forestry to the membership of the State Soil Conservation Committee. The main reason for this is that the Division of Forestry is oversees the timbering industry which contributes to erosion throughout the state. The Committee already has representation from the Division of Environmental Protection which oversees erosion from other industries such as construction and surface mining. Although these agencies deal with erosion from different industries, erosion from one industry can affect other industries covered by other agencies. Adding the Division of Forestry to the State Soil Conservation Committee should increase the level of coordination in the area of combating soil erosion. The Legislature may also wish to add a fourth citizen member to add balance to the Committee.

Recommendation 2:

The Legislature should consider changing the Code to amend WVC 19-21A-4 by adding the Director of the Division of Forestry and another citizen member to the membership of the State Soil Conservation Committee.

Issue Area 4: Meetings of the State Soil Conservation Committee Are in Compliance with Open Meetings Laws.

The West Virginia State Soil Conservation Committee, by virtue of its being a public body, has an obligation to the citizens of the State of West Virginia to conduct all of its meetings in compliance with the Open Meetings Laws. The Legislative findings of the Open Meetings Law, West Virginia Code 6-9A-1, reads as follows:

The Legislature hereby finds and declares that public agencies, boards commissions, governing bodies, councils, and all other public bodies in this state exist for the singular purpose of representing citizens of this state in governmental affairs and it is therefore, in the best interests of the people of this state for all proceedings of all public bodies to be conducted in an open and public manner. The Legislature hereby further finds and declares that the citizens of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the governmental agencies which serve them. The people in delegating authority do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know or what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments of government created by them.

Also within 6-9A-3 are filing requirements with the office of the Secretary of State. The statute requires in 6-9A-5 that a record of governmental proceedings in the way of minutes be maintained as follows:

Each governing body shall provide for the preparation of written minutes of all of its meetings. All such minutes shall be available to the public within a reasonable time after the meeting and shall include the following information:

(1) The date, time and place of the meeting;

(2) The name of each member of the governing body present or absent;

(3) All motions, proposals, resolutions, orders, ordinances, and measures proposed,

the name of the person proposing the same and their disposition; and

(4) The results of all votes and, upon the request of a member, the vote of each member, by name.

The Committee, managed to maintain accurate minutes of its meetings. Within the statue is language which states "...Each governing body of the executive branch of the state shall file a notice of any meeting with the secretary of state for publication in the state register...". The statute further requires that "Each notice shall be filed in a manner so as to appear in the state register at least five days prior to the date of the meeting." In the conduct of the regular Commission meetings, the requirements of registration with the Secretary of State were met.

Conclusion

The State Soil Conservation Committee has a duty as a representative body to conduct its meetings and business in an open manner. In accordance with the statute, proper notification of meetings are to be made through the office of the Secretary of State within guidelines so as to be published within the state register. Minutes of meetings shall be maintained and made public, in a timely manner, so as to keep an accurate public record of proceedings. Being that the actions of the commission are in compliance with the requirements of the statute, this issue is presented as an item of information rather than a recommendation for correction.

Conclusion: The State Soil Conservation Committee Should Be Continued.

The State Soil Conservation Committee through its State Soil Conservation Agency plays a necessary role in providing technical assistance and assisting soil conservation districts in getting funding for soil conservation projects. The Committee also plays an important role between the federal government and the soil conservation districts and the farmers represented by them.

The ex officio members of the committee provide for a means of communication between agencies which are directly affected by soil conservation and erosion abatement policies. The interaction between the representatives of these agencies in the formulation of policy is essential in the state due to its limited agricultural area and rugged geography. The Committee is able to address topics relating to soil conservation and natural resources in general in an open forum with all interested agencies present. This enables the committee to act through its agency in a more efficient manner.

The existence of the Committee to oversee the domain of soil conservation is within the norm when comparing West Virginia with the bordering states. The composition of the Committee closely resembles that of neighboring states with the exception for he Commonwealth of Kentucky (see Table 3). Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia all incorporate the Secretary of Agriculture. All four also have positions reserved for citizen members of the soil conservation committee. Three of the four include academic representation from the principal state university agriculture department. In West Virginia the diversity of the soil conservation committee achieved through the inclusion of governmental, academic, and citizen membership is also augmented by an associate member from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Table 3

Comparison of State Soil Conservation Committees for Neighboring States

State Conservation

Districts

Members Ex Officio Membership Citizen Membership
KY 121 9 9 Supervisors appointed by Secretary of Natural Resources 0
MD 24 11 Secretary Department of Agriculture Secretary Department of Natural Resources,

Secretary Department of Environmental Protection

Chairman Maryland Agriculture Commission

Vice President Agricultural Affairs, University of Maryland,

President Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts

5 members appointed by Secretary of Agriculture
OH 88 7 Secretary of Agriculture , Chair, Ohio State University Dept. of Agriculture 5 members appointed by Governor

PA

66 12 Executive Secy (independent)

Secretary Agriculture,

Secretary Environmental Protection

Dean, College of Agriculture, Penn State University

District Directors appoint 4 farmer members and 2 public members.

Board also has 2 associate members

VA

46 12 Secretary Agriculture , Dean, Agricultural Experimentation, Virginia Polytechnical Institute

Secretary Conservation & Recreation,

Director, Cooperative Extension, Virginia Polytechnical Institute

Director, Cooperative Extension, Virginia State University

1 appointed at will and pleasure of Governor, 6 conservation district Directors appointed by Governor

WV

14 7 Commissioner Department of Agriculture

Director Department of Environmental Protection

Director Cooperative Extension

Director Agricultural Experiment Station, West Virginia University

3 members appointed by Governor

Recommendation 3:

It is recommended that the State Soil Conservation Committee be continued for __ years.