This new page highlights the work of a number of veteran conservation professionals – how they got started and what they’ve learned along the way.
Doug Bos, Assistant Manager, Rock County SWCD
How many years have you worked in conservation? I started with the Rock County SWCD/Land Management Office in June of 1996 ( 24 years).
How have you worked with the public? Prior to this position I was an Assistant Manager and Agronomist for a Farmers Cooperative for 18 years. I am the Assistant Director in our office with responsibilities of Water Planner, Feedlot Officer, WCA LGU and Ag Inspector.
How have you partnered with other organizations to start new projects or continue existing projects? Our office has partnered with many State and Federal agencies over the years to deliver conservation resources to farmers and landowners in Rock County and now the Missouri River Watershed. These organizations have included BSWR, NRCS, MDA, MDH, DNR, USFWS, MN Rural Water Association, National Wildlife Federation and Nature Conservancy.
What are some projects that stand out to you and what were some lessons learned? A project that stands out and was the precursor to PTMapp was a pilot project in 2014 with MDA that partnered Rock, Nobles, Pipestone and Murray counties to address turbidity impairments in the Rock River. We utilized LIDAR data in combination with stream power index and RUSLE to target catchments in fields that were shown to deliver higher amounts of sediment to impaired streams. We contracted with a former NRCS technician and trained a new technician to conduct field walkovers in the fields that had these prioritized catchments. We contacted over 600 landowners with a 33% response rate over 2 years. We conducted over 100 field walkovers in the first two years and offered options for conservation practices to address the erosion in these catchment areas. We designed conservation practices and assisted with finding cost share and contractors to do the work for interested landowners.
The things learned from this pilot project helped in the development of our 1W1P for the Missouri River Watershed. We also added two other counties in the Missouri River watershed of Jackson and Lincoln into our partnership. The processes of catchment prioritization and field walkovers became an integral part of the implementation plan of our 1W1P. 6 years later the demand for assistance with conservation practices on the landscape continues to increase and I believe some of the requests are from our earlier work. To keep up with demand we have hired another technician and relied heavily on the Southwest Prairie TSA for technical assistance. The 1W1P process has strengthened our partnership with our neighboring counties, provided the opportunity to prioritize our water quality concerns and provided a stable funding source to address impaired waters in our watershed with conservation delivery and incentives.
What’s important for advancing water and land protection and planning for the next 20 years? I think technology such as utilizing LIDAR for estimates, programing and computation capacity with programs like PTMapp, Electronic Field Tool and Auto Cad, as well as utilizing GIS for survey and project layout has advanced our abilities to get conservation on the ground. 1W1P has provided the framework to develop partnerships, prioritize water quality needs, and provide stable funding. The Additional Capacity funding has provided the dollars to hire and train staff needed as well as providing the new technology to get conservation on the ground. Continued funding will be a vital factor to continue and improve these great advancements in conservation and conservation delivery systems. Development of these delivery systems and training staff is expensive and takes years to accomplish. If this funding isn’t continued, the hiring and training efforts along with development of an efficient conservation delivery system is lost. Landowner trust in staff also takes years to develop and is lost also if are not able to retain staff. Another point that will be important in the future years is developing partnerships with private industry. We have been working with agronomists and consultants as well as agri-business to promote soil health and conservation. I think these partnerships will provide additional capacity to our efforts and create an improved buy in by our landowners.
What is your advice for new conservation professionals? Suggestions I would offer are to reach out to your neighboring counties to understand how they conduct business. See what opportunities there are for partnering (some of this can happen if you are part of a 1W1P) and or copying some of their successful programs. Another suggestion is to volunteer to serve on committees and focus groups. Being new you may feel you don’t have much to offer but you have a perspective to bring to the table and you will learn a tremendous amount of information and form connections with possible partners and agencies that will serve you well in future efforts.
Craig Christensen, Murray County SWCD
How many years have you worked in conservation? I have been working at Murray SWCD for about 28 years. When I started we really didn't work with native grasses at all but through the years it became more and more. I'm definitely not an expert when it comes to native grasses and forbs but I have learned quite a bit from seeing planting projects built and maintained the wrong way.
- Planting native seeds too deep and too early in the spring can lead to failure Many of these acres turned into a big weedy mess and had to be reseeded after 3 years of seeing no results.
- The best results I have seen for planting natives has been when they are seeded where the field had roundup ready soybeans planted the year before.
- The best time of year that I have seen to seed has been mid to late June using a no-till drill and spraying roundup within a week after seeding. By doing this you kill all the weeds and the soil is not disturbed any more so weed seeds don't germinate as easily again. The soil is warm in July and the natives usually grow the first year.
- A method I used on my own CRP and CREP acres was that I planted all warm season native grasses and forbs because I didn't want to have to burn every 3-5 years. Instead of burning I spot spray round up early in the spring around May 1st when brome and other non desirable cool season plants have started growing. This works pretty well because the native warm season grasses and forbs haven't started to grow yet. I do this every 3 yrs approx. My plantings are about 11yrs old now and are still pretty good yet but they do need to be burned soon.
- I spot spray Milestone for thistle patches which works great because it carries over into the next year.
- One thing I always tell people is to make sure you get your ground dug as level as possible before you plant. If you plant on rough ground it will be rough forever and you will not have fun bouncing over it every time you do any maintenance, spraying or hunting.
- NRCS used to tell people to lightly disc the ground as an option for mid contract maintenance. I walked across a field where they did this about 2 years later and you could barely walk, it was horrible. I think people will be having the same problem if they graze cattle (especially in wet ground) for maintenance.
Steve Hughes, Aitkin County SWCD
How many years have you worked in conservation? I've been working 41 years in conservation, 37 years with the Aitkin County SWCD.
How have you worked with the public? We have a monthly 1-hour radio show (we talk about conservation and take calls), and as many news articles as we can…
How have you partnered with other organizations to start new projects or continue existing projects? We have a network of volunteers on several committees that include lakeshore property owners, lake associations, township officers, etc. Some of the committees are: AIS, specific watersheds, lakes, etc. -Present a clear and consistent message: “keeping phosphorus from entering surface waters is a good thing. It has always been and will always be, a good thing” … “erosion control, shoreline revegetation, tree and shrub plantings, conservation easements, wise forest management, etc. all benefit water quality”.
What are some projects that stand out to you and what were some lessons learned? We bought a $2,600 drone that gives us a unique perspective on projects, ditches, buffers, forest management, invasives, etc. In the first 2 months we contracted with a watershed to provide aerial footage and a forest management message...paid for the drone and then some. The possibilities are nearly endless. I think having the drone gives our plans a "coolness" factor that draws people in. Good footage for our website, facebook page, etc. More advice: don't just talk about doing these types of things, go out and buy what you need to make it happen!
Many projects stand out:
- Career-long positive relationships with practically everybody: county departments, county board, other SWCD’s, BWSR, MPCA, DNR, etc.
- Decades of cost-share w/landowners to improve soil stability, especially riparian.
- Consistent, cooperative, transparent AIS efforts.
- We were “first” many, many, times.
- My advice: “take a chance on a new opportunity, be first! It is better to be first or last, than to be in the mediocre middle”
- Not every idea will succeed.
What is your advice for new conservation professionals?
- Give your staff authority and responsibility (and then back them up!) Never micro-manage.
- Fight to get fair wages and benefits for them, do everything you can to keep good staff for the long-term. Appreciated staff will outperform your expectations.
- Your career is a marathon, not a sprint, sometimes good ideas take years to fully develop. Be patient. Be sure that people can trust what you say. Admit when you screwed up.