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COVID-19 and the work of Conservation Districts

By Laurie Zeller, MT DNRC

I have rewritten this guidance to CDs three times over the last few days, so rather than try to keep up with the changing news about how the governor’s “sheltering in place” directives affect CDs here is a link ( that specifically addresses what to do and how CD boards can determine what essential services are. This main Montana government page includes links for COVID updates and others links that provide important information about how to make determinations regarding essential services. For those of you that are in offices paid for by USDA, follow their directive regarding office closures; however, CD boards must make determinations for its employees independently whether to work remotely if the USDA offices remain open. For those of you that are in your own buildings or paying for your own space, your board should be making these determinations based on the governor’s guidance. Please know that things change quickly, so the links above should help keep you current.

Here are some questions regarding 310 processing and other CD questions we recently answered.

We have heard that we have to have ID or some sort of documentation to travel to work that proves we are providing essential services. Is that true?

Currently, that’s not covered in the governor’s directives.

Can we postpone reviewing 310 applications?

Yes. If you don’t “accept” an application, the time frame does not start, so you would remain in compliance with the law. Be sure to keep in contact with the applicant and FWP to determine if the application can be approved without an inspection. Consider holding a virtual inspection via google earth or using other aerial photography if necessary.

FWP is the entity that actually determines if an inspection is warranted. If they don’t want an inspection, the board can approve the application without one and stay within the statutory authority. If FWP determines they want to do an inspection (within the governor’s directives), then the CD and the applicant can waive participation. FWP would submit the team inspection form to the CD, and the board can make a decision based on the team recommendation. The waiver in participation should be in writing (which can be an e-mail).

To summarize, during “shelter in place,” the board should first determine if the application can wait. If not, determine if can it be approved without an inspection (FWP consultation required). If not, can it be approved via a virtual inspection (FWP consultation required).  The board and FWP should use the governor’s guidelines to determine if the inspection would be considered essential.

Can we make 310 decisions over the phone?

Statutory provisions still apply regarding public notice and participation. If your board has need to meet, those meetings must be via conference call, skype, zoom, or other virtual meeting software. Public notice and opportunity to participate must be provided, so give a little more notice so they can either send in comments, or participate on the call.

How do we get 310 decisions signed if the board members can’t come to the office or travel isn’t considered essential?

The board can delegate signatory authority for CD employees to sign the 310 forms. Just make sure this authority has a definite time limit and is documented in the minutes.

As of today, March 27, DNRC remains open for essential services with limited staff, however, most CDB employees are working from home. Staff are still providing services via email and phone.

Please stay well & safe!

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