Conservation district turns 50

— image credit:
Photos courtesy of Joe Holtrop

by MATTHEW NASH Sequim Gazette

Clallam Conservation District recently hit the half-century mark.

To celebrate, employees, current and former board members held a gathering Oct. 28 at Guy Cole Convention Center in Carrie Blake Park. 

“They are doing great things that people haven’t or are just now hearing about,” said Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger to the crowd of about 100 people.

Joe Holtrop, Clallam Conservation District manager, spoke on the history of the program and how its role in the community has changed.

He said the biggest challenges ahead are focusing on the Dungeness River’s flow and small farms projects taking the place of larger ones.

“As was the case 50 years ago, the conservation district is an agency that exists to help landowners and land managers become better stewards of the land,” Holtrop said.

More than 50 years ago, on Sept. 29, 1959, the Olympic Soil Conservation District was formed. It was about 25 years after the Dust Bowl and laws had been passed to establish local conservation districts nationwide.

Brief overview:

Technical and financial assistance was provided to help convert local farms to flood irrigation, which was the most common method of irrigating crops prior to sprinkler irrigation.


Assistance was provided to dairy farmers helping them construct manure storage structures.


Water manure lagoons were built for dairies to store several months of liquid manure.


The district used grants to employ crews of displaced timber workers to restore miles of stream habitat damaged by past management practices.

Impact now
After three decades, Clallam Conservation District partnered with Jefferson County Conservation District on a joint grant application to hire its first employee, Holtrop in 1989.

Today the district employs five staff and the annual budget exceeds $2 million. Clallam County pays $26,000 of that, with the rest coming from grants.

The majority of the budget helps irrigation districts and companies improve their irrigation water conveyance systems that conserve water and help salmon.

Over the past nine years, more than $7 million has been contributed by the conservation district for irrigation water conservation projects such as replacing about 30 miles of irrigation ditches with pipelines and building two irrigation reservoirs. These projects have resulted in the conservation of more than 3,000 acre-feet of Dungeness River water per year.
Other projects include replacing culverts on logging roads that are barriers to fish passage and decommissioning old, degraded logging roads that are susceptible to erosion.

Workshops lead to partnership
The first of many workshops on landscaping with native plants was offered in 1990 as a response to large lawns becoming increasingly commonplace in eastern Clallam County.

The first native plant sale was that year and more than 160,000 plants have been dispersed among 4,000 people.

Workshops have expanded to include low-impact demonstrations including storm-water management practices such as rain gardens.

In addition to the natural landscaping education program, the district conducts workshops targeting operators of small-scale livestock farms. More than 1,000 small-farm operators have participated in these workshops over the past two decades.

“We take great pride in our ability to work with individual landowners,” said longtime board chairman Joe Murray.

“We try to help them meet their needs while at the same time protecting or improving the environment.”

He added that because the conservation district is a not a regulatory agency, it can work easily with landowners who might feel threatened by agencies that enforce regulations.

Reach Matthew Nash at
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