The Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS)
The Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) is the premier international organization for professionals who practice and advance the science and art of natural resource conservation. SWCS is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization that serves as an advocate for conservation professionals and for science-based conservation practice, programs, and policy. We pursue our mission through a combination of research, education, advocacy, and partnership efforts.
Find locations served, office locations
- Business Type:
- Nonprofit organization (NPO)
- Industry Type:
- Soil and Groundwater
- Market Focus:
- Globally (various continents)
- Year Founded:
- $1,000,000 US - $10,000,000 US
Local Chapters Addressing Local Issues
SWCS membership within the United States and Canada is organized into state and university chapters to provide education, training, and professional development opportunities at a local level. Find a chapter near you.
Leaders and Partners in Conservation
It's our members and leadership that make SWCS a knowledgeable and effective voice for conservation. SWCS is
- governed by a nine-member, volunteer Board of Directors;
- led by the work of volunteer committees;
- managed by a CEO and supporting staff based in Ankeny, Iowa;
- supported by our project partners and corporate sponsors; and
- inspired by the conservation work of our 3,000+ members worldwide.
In the late 1920s and following the devastating Dust Bowl of the 1930s, Hugh Hammond Bennett and other early leaders in conservation and ecology worked to educate farmers and landowners about the soil erosion crisis. These efforts led to the creation of the Soil Conservation Service (now the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service) and to the founding of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.
The Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) is the premier international organization for professionals who practice and advance the science and art of natural resource conservation. We believe sustainable land and water management is essential to the continued security of the earth and its people. Our goal is to cultivate an organization of informed, dynamic individuals whose contributions create a bright future for agriculture, the environment, and society.
Who We Are
Our community of more than 3,000 conservation leaders represents nearly every academic discipline and many different public, private, and nonprofit institutions around the world. Our skilled members include researchers, administrators, planners, policymakers, technical advisors, teachers, students, farmers, and ranchers, all who share the common goal of building a more sustainable future.
SWCS members lead at the chapter level to tackle critical conservation issues of regional and local significance. Chapter events and initiatives engage members in field tours and other learning opportunities, provide a network of experts in the area, and educate local leaders regarding environmental issues in their communities. Members of student chapters on university campuses participate in activities that foster their interests in natural resource management and prepare them for successful professional careers.
- Passion for stewardship and sustainability. We are driven by our desire to help conservationists and land managers identify and implement the best conservation systems to protect soil and water resources and to achieve global sustainability.
- Commitment to science. We value and promote the use of data-supported and fact-based science to advance conservation.
- Respect for people and cultures. We recognize the success of our mission relies upon people whose cultures and livelihoods are deeply connected to the land as well as consumers of food and fiber produced. We seek conservation solutions that will benefit and improve the quality of life for all people.
- Focus on community. We believe our greatest strength lies in uniting people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ideas to inspire leadership, collaboration, and innovation within the conservation community.
- Promise of integrity. We promise honesty, transparency, and accountability in all interactions with members, partners, and the public as we work to fulfill our mission.
What We Do
- Advance knowledge. SWCS’s exceptional publications, projects, and programs advance conservation science and the development of effective and sustainable management practices.
- Support learning. SWCS provides high-quality educational opportunities, training, and technical resources that equip conservation professionals to achieve excellence.
- Foster communication. SWCS shares important conservation news and research, and empowers conservation professionals to lead the discussion of natural resource conservation.
- Advocate. SWCS advocates for conservation professionals and their work, and promotes science-based conservation practices, programs, and policies.
- Build community. SWCS connects conservation professionals and partners in an active, supportive, and welcoming community.
In 1941 Hugh Hammond Bennett, the “father of soil conservation,” and a small group of visionary conservationists began discussions about the need for a society to support their relatively new profession. Those working in conservation had no common meeting ground, no medium for joint expression, and no collective means for advancing their cause. Existing organizations of the time provided little opportunity or encouragement for advancing the science and art of good land and water use.
While these meetings planted the seeds of what would become SWCS, it was not until 1943 that the intent to organize was announced, and in late 1944 a council was formed and membership began to grow. The first meeting of the Soil Conservation Society of America was held in Chicago on December 12-13, 1946.
Soon after, the Society began to publish the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation and a membership newsletter. The organization operated through the efforts of a part-time staff until 1951, when H. Wayne Pritchard was hired as the organization’s first full-time executive secretary, and a headquarters was established on Iowa State University land, just north of Des Moines, Iowa.
As the Soil Conservation Society of America matured as an organization, it changed its name to the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS) to indicate a broader mission, including water resources, and an international scope of activity. It also gained a reputation as a source of balanced, authoritative information on land and water conservation issues.
Today, the organization continues to make a difference in conservation policy, research, education, and practice. The Society’s international membership works collectively to identify important land and water conservation issues, to discuss and debate those issues, and to initiate action for addressing them effectively.
The SWCS international headquarters building is located in the heart of the Corn Belt, between Des Moines and Ankeny, Iowa. This historical building was constructed in 1962 on land leased from Iowa State University at $1.00 per year through a 99-year lease. This generous arrangement was made possible because the land was an unused corner of an Iowa State experimental farm with little value for production. Built in a then-modern design, the building was intended to serve as “symbol of men and women dedicated to conservation for the welfare of people throughout the world.'
Over the years, the building, which is dedicated to Hugh Hammond Bennett, has served as home to his library of conservation resources and archived documents, housed a full printing press and production staff for the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, and provided a central location for conservation work from around the United States and world.
As Iowa State sold the experimental farm and the surrounding land became urbanized, the SWCS headquarters has remained intact. The six acres on which the building is situated are prairie soils—Nicollet loam and Webster silty clay loam. A small pond and wooded area add habitat to the east side of the property. Wildlife include deer, foxes, turtles, hawks, and an owl.
Visitors often comment on the unusual and striking building among newly developed, suburban surroundings. Please feel free to stop by to see us if you’re in the area!
SWCS actively engages in policy conversations, on-the-ground projects, educational publications and professional development opportunities, and effective partnerships that support and inform conservation professionals and their work.
SWCS collaborates with scientists and policymakers to produce results-oriented guidance for conservation stakeholders. We engage government and nongovernment partners in conversation through conferences, hold blue-ribbon panels, and provide recommendations to legislative committees. Issues of interest include farm bill conservation programs, climate change policy, conservation compliance, and research funding.
Our Special Projects and Policy Director tracks legislative issues to inform our membership of current political action and serves as a link to lawmakers and other national conservation organizations.
The SWCS Science and Policy Committee meets monthly to present and discuss topics of current and ongoing interest within the scientific community. The committee’s work includes the creation of topic-specific task forces, publication of journal articles and white papers, and guidance for the annual conference planning committee. Past committee meeting minutes and presentations are available to the public, and all members are invited to join this active committee.
Through grant-funded conservation education and implementation efforts, SWCS promotes innovative practices that foster the science of soil, water, and related natural resources management to achieve sustainability.