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Resource conservation council survives loss of USDA support

The San Juan Resource Conservation and Development Council was established in 1972 and since then has been working in the southwestern corner of Colorado to promote, “sustainable communities and improve the quality of life through economic development and the conservation of natural resources.”

The council operated with the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Resource Conservation Services; in May 2011, this support ended. The federal budget was cut, and the support was eliminated.

“It was a big shock,” said Jim Smith, the new chair of the SJRDC board.

Prior to the budget cut, USDA provided the SJRDC with staff and an office.

“We had always been nonprofit, but we had been under the umbrella of the USDA,” said Nicole Fabrey, executive assistant to the SJRDC council. According to Fabrey, when the federal funding was cut, about half of the resource and development councils in Colorado closed.

Fabrey explained the work of the SJRDC as filling the role of fiscal sponsor and umbrella for a variety of projects and organizations working to benefit the community. The organizations, for a small fee, are enabled to use the SJRCD 501(c)(3) status. SJRDC helps them find funding through grants, assists with project administration, does grant research and may even help with website development.

Active projects the SJRDC is currently sponsoring include Water Wise, Upper San Juan Mixed Conifer Working Group, Southwest Colorado Weather Modification Project, Sisters of the Western Slope, Four Corners Film Office, San Juan Basin Recycling Association, San Juan National Forest Weed Management Project, Resource Recovery Park and River Protection Work Group, among others.

When SJRDC’s federal funding was cut, the council had to find another building and hire its own executive assistant. Fabrey said the impact to the council and its work after that was minimal.

“We are still providing the same services,” Fabrey said, and added that being disassociated with the USDA has enabled the organization to be more responsive to community needs.

“We are more independent and we can meet the needs of the community.”

One of the examples is Sisters of the Western Slope.

“This is a quality-of-life project,” Fabrey said. Sisters of the Western Slope is a community service in which a group of women make quilts for community members experiencing a crisis.

A main project which the SJRDC sponsors is the San Juan National Forest Weed Management Project, which is funded by a four-year grant through the U.S. Forest Service. The council has hired two seasonal employees, Shelly Riddle and Miles Newby, to run the program. The program’s focus area includes sections of the San Juan National Forest in Archuleta, Dolores, Montezuma and La Plata counties. This will be its third year. Since the beginning of the project, 42,872 acres have been inventoried with 4,137 acres of noxious weeds treated. This year, Riddle and Newby will work together to produce a GPS/GIS reference guide, field reference guide and three guides to assist counties in data collection and post-data processing.

“The program has been really successful,” Smith, current board chair, said.

Since this is the 40th anniversary of SJRDC, Fabrey said the council’s concentration for this year is, “To step back and look at the needs of the community.”

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