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Preserving Local Resources: Weston County Natural Resource District looks after natural resources and its local community

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), originally known as the Soil Conservation Service, was created under the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 to develop and implement local soil erosion control programs.  

In March of 1941, the Wyoming Legislature passed the Conservation District Law, which allowed for the creation of conservation districts in Wyoming, with locally-elected representatives to direct programs and provide services conserving local natural resources. 

Today, Wyoming has 34 conservation districts across all 23 counties, the purpose of which is to assist landowners in conserving Wyoming’s natural resources, providing education on natural resource topics and preserving the tax base.

The Weston County Natural Resource District (WCNRD) was organized in 1960 and received certification from the secretary of state on Jan. 16, 1961. The district was originally named the Beaver Skull Conservation District, but the name was changed to WCNRD in April of 1994. 

WCNRD District Manager Caleb Carter notes the district stays busy throughout the year, working on a range of projects from wildfire management and stock water development to community education and hazardous waste disposal.

Forestry and timber projects

Nestled at the base of the Black Hills, Weston County includes numerous acres of forest and timber, which comprise a large majority of WCNRD’s work. 

“One of the things unique to our country, compared to the rest of the state and the West itself, is 65 percent of forested land in Weston County is privately owned and most forested areas in the West are federal,” notes Caleb. “This puts us in a unique situation where we work with a lot of private landowners to assist in managing forested acres.”

WCNRD does this through tree thinning and logging, according to Caleb.

Caleb also shares many counties in the West that had thriving timber industries no longer have access to timber harvest and their sawmills have been shut down. The trees burn in catastrophic forest fires instead.

“We are grateful we still have a timber industry in Weston County, and we are fighting very hard to maintain it,” he shares.

Maintaining forests and reducing fire danger is critical in a place like Weston County, where tree lines meld into town boundaries, seeping into the communities of Newcastle, Upton and Osage. 

“This creates significant fire danger, not only to individual homes but also to major communities,” states Caleb. “Managing our forests is a big emphasis for us, and something I try to focus on and increase awareness of.”

He continues, “We work hard at trying to maintain funding for forestry projects and partner with the Weston County Fire Protection District on a grant – the Wildland Urban Interface Grant – for fuel mitigation to try to minimize wildfire danger on private property.”

Community programs

Assisting private land owners with forest maintenance is just one item on a long list of things WCNRD does to look out for the communities of Weston County. 

Caleb explains the district offers cost shares for septic maintenance, well water testing and stock water development projects. 

“Many areas have large pastures, and the biggest limiting factor for utilizing them effectively is lack of stock water,” states Caleb. “We have a conservation cost share program to provide 50 percent of the cost – up to $7,500 – to help farms and ranches with a variety of natural resource improvement projects, but the main project we do is development of stock water.” 

The district also helps residents properly dispose of hazardous waste during a one-day annual event, in an effort to keep dangerous objects and compounds out of the landfill. 

“This is always a very successful day,” Caleb says. “We don’t charge for it. Instead, we collect donations of food, which we then take to the local food bank. We also collect monetary donations, and this year, we donated the money to one of our local grocery stores to create food vouchers for the food bank to be given to those in need during the holidays.”  

“This is a great way to keep hazardous material out of the landfill, while at the same time, supporting people in need in our community,” he continues. “It’s been fun to be able to do that.”

Some of the districts other projects include an annual tree sale and a community tree grant with a cost-share of up to $500 to plant trees in public spaces, such as city parks. 

“We work with Upton and Newcastle on planting trees in their parks, and we also have garden groups that plant memorial trees in one of those parks,” Caleb explains. “The cost share covers planting, fencing and posts to protect young trees and give them a chance to grow before the deer mow them off.”

“We also partner with the Weston County Senior Services to host a community garden on their property,” he adds. “It includes about 60 raised beds, utilized by residents of Newcastle. We help manage it and do a lot of the upkeep and maintenance on the garden.”

Education and increasing awareness

Other ways WCNRD supports the community of Weston County is through education and advocation for the area’s natural resources.

Caleb notes, “We host an annual three-day natural resources camp for kids where we play games and do typical summer camp activities. But, we also have a day dedicated to activities based around natural resources to help them gain a better understanding of and appreciation for our natural resources.”

Additionally, WCNRD participates in the annual local Ag Day, in which fourth-grade students from around Weston County have the opportunity to partake in hands-on learning focused on Wyoming agriculture.

Government involvement

“Another important role for us is we also serve as a cooperating agency in the federal planning process,” Caleb shares. “Right now, for example, the Black Hills National Forest is working on updating their forest plan, and we are a cooperating agency in this update. We sit in on meetings and view reports, submit comments and give guidance and direction based on our concerns in how we’d like to see the forest managed.”

“We want to maintain our industry and make sure we are providing enough timber from federal lands to support our mills and keep them operating,” he adds. 

Caleb notes WCNRD is also working with the Bureau of Land Management on updating their local resource management plan, as well as monitoring other rule changes such as the recent Waters of the U.S. decision.

“We try to stay abreast of these things and be actively involved in the process, making comments and trying to help shape them in the best interest of our district members, our agricultural production and the state of Wyoming,” he says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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