Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Completes 2013 Area Meeting Tour
The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) in partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has completed another tour of Oklahoma’s five conservation areas through its annual Area Meetings. In light of the Federal Government shutdown from October 1 through October 16, 2013, this year’s theme was “Locally Led, Not Federally Dead.”
OACD Executive Director, Clay Pope, opened the event by urging districts to work toward greater self-sufficiency and be better prepared to service conservation customers in the event of possible future shutdowns and shrinking federal and state budgets.
NRCS Soil Health Initiative
Depending on the meeting, either Steve Alspach, Assistant State Soil Scientist, or Greg Scott, retired State Soil Scientist represented NRCS to present NRCS's new Soil Health Initiative, which returns conservation’s focus back to where agriculture begins, the soil. The presentation illustrated the tremendous gains in soil health that can be achieved by maintaining cover crops that promote cooler soil, greater water absorption, and increased nutrient retention. Each meeting also featured the firsthand account of a local producer's conservation successes and challenges. Download the NRCS presentation.
The Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA)
The Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA) updated audiences on the history and current status of prescribed burning in Oklahoma. OPBA utilizes planned burning practices to reduce the danger presented by wildfire and to control invasive plant species. They are also engaged in training interested individuals to start their own prescribed burn associations for burning safely and effectively.
A budget panel of OCC Executive Director, Mike Thralls, and OCC District Services and Human Resources Director, Lisa Knauf Owen, provided an outline of the current budget challenges facing the conservation partnership as well as ways districts might move forward in light of receiving less funding. Download the Budget Overview.
In part an answer to tightening budgets, OCC Public Information Officer, Robert Hathorne, discussed the Commission’s new communications strategy, which aims to provide better support to districts and increase the effectiveness of their communications even as funding and staffing decrease. Download the Communications Strategy.
Blue Thumb and Certainty Programs
Following an update on the efforts of the OCC Blue Thumb volunteer water monitoring program, OCC Director of Water Quality Shanon Phillips discussed certainty programs, which would protect landowners who have implemented conservation practices from further regulation for an agreed upon length of time. Phillips detailed an upcoming survey for landowners which will help determine if a certainty program is worth moving forward with in Oklahoma. Download the Agricultural Stewardship Assurance presentation.
Dust Bowl Curriculum
After lunch, educator, Dust Bowl survivor, and friend to anyone she meets, Pauline Hodges, presented the Dust Bowl curriculum she has developed. The free curriculum is available to everyone and is an excellent way to introduce students to the Dust Bowl through interactive learning.
Area winners of the OACD Conservation Awards were recognized in the categories of Outstanding Conservation District, sponsored by Chesapeake Energy, Outstanding District Director, sponsored by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and Outstanding Landowner/Cooperator, sponsored by the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma. The state winner will be recognized at the OACD State Meeting March 2-4, 2014, at the Reed Center in Midwest City.
Oklahoma Conservation Districts partner with Dust Bowl survivor and educator Pauline Hodges to produce new curriculum for schools
The Conservation Districts of Oklahoma have contracted with educator and Dust Bowl survivor Dr. Pauline Hodges to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum to help students become aware of the need for conserving land and other natural resources through the lessons of the Dust Bowl, according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).
“We are extremely excited to work with Dr. Hodges to create this curriculum and make it available to the schools of our state,” Farber said. “By telling the story of the Dust Bowl we hope to be able to instill in the next generation of Oklahomans an understanding for why it is so important that we protect our natural resources. We cannot tell you how happy we are to be working with Pauline on this project and we are looking forward to helping place this material at the disposal of our state's educators.”
A veteran of more than 50 years in the classroom, Dr. Pauline Hodges has taught in public school and at the university level, serving as a university department chair, the language arts coordinator for one of the country’s largest school districts, and as a national educational consultant. Dr. Hodges is has also served as a member of the board of directors of the National Rural Education Association, including a stint as board president in 1998.
The curriculum created by Dr. Hodges is based upon an
earlier version she used prior to the recent release of the Ken Burn’s film The
Dust Bowl, a production on which she worked as a researcher and in which
she was interviewed and predominantly featured.
According to Farber, the curriculum created by Dr. Hodges is built partially around the film The Dust Bowl with additional assignments utilizing the book Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb, a firsthand account of the conditions in the migrant camps of California. The curriculum will also use parts of The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck’s account of a migrant family who also leave Oklahoma for camps in California. Interviews with survivors whose parents plowed up the land in what would later become the Dust Bowl in the early 1900s only to have it blow away during the “Dirty Thirties” will be included along with excerpts from Timothy Egan’s book The Worst Hard Times The curriculum will also provide a look at federal programs that helped farmers and others survive these terrible times.
Activities students will participate in include writing assignments, speaking assignments, opportunities for students to study soil science and farming practices that contributed to the cause of the disaster and even the cooking of a Dust Bowl era meal.
According to OACD’s Farber, the curriculum will not only provide a great tool for teachers, but will hopefully serve as an opportunity to build a stronger bridge between the work of local conservation districts and local schools.
“Education is the key to making sure that we never again suffer a natural disaster like the one we experienced during the Dust Bowl,” Farber said. “Our hope is that by making this material available to our local schools through our conservation districts, we can insure that the next generation of Oklahomans understand why it is so critical that we protect our natural resources. We learned the hard way in the 1930s what can happen if we don’t take care of the land. Hopefully that’s a lesson we never have to relearn.”
Anyone interested in the curriculum is encouraged to contact OACD Executive Director Clay Pope at 405-699-2087, firstname.lastname@example.org, or to contact their local conservation district.
Conservation Districts, Continue Partnership on the Ken Burns Film "The Dust Bowl"
The partnership between the OACD and the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) on outreach surrounding the Ken Burns documentary “The Dust Bowl” continues! Due to the generous support of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and other partners, OACD is happy to announce that copies of the curriculum created by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and Florentine Films will be available for all districts, along with a copy of the 40 minute screener and complete four-hour copy of the film at the area meetings later this fall. OACD will also have available copies of a syllabus and lesson plan guide put together specifically for Oklahoma by none other than Dr. Pauline Hodges, former teacher, professor of education and dust bowl survivor.
Our hope is that each district will use these materials not only as part of their education program, but make them available to local schools for use in their classrooms through a “check out” program. We also would encourage districts to explore partnerships with groups like their county Farm Bureau, County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee and American Farmers and Ranchers County boards to use the films and material in their presentations as well.
Please contact Clay Pope at 405-699-2087 with any questions about the material.
NPR Report Says Drought, Budget Cuts Threaten Shelterbelts Designed to Prevent Dust Storms
The extreme drought that has gripped much of western Oklahoma for three years is now starting to threaten the shelterbelt trees that have helped to protect crops and prevent soil erosion for more than eight decades. With government budgets tighter than ever, a federally-funded replacement of these trees is unlikeley. Read the complete report by StateImpact Oklahoma's Joe Wertz here.
Governor Fallin Appoints Shanon Phillips to Arkansas-Oklahoma Committee on Water Quality
Article courtesy of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission
Governor Fallin has appointed Conservation Commission Water Quality Division Director Shanon Phillips as one of three members representing the state of Oklahoma on a joint committee with Arkansas to review the phosphorus water quality standard for the Illinois River.
The six-member committee, whose members are divided equally between Oklahoma and Arkansas, is tasked with designing a study and selecting and advising independent researchers to determine the critical nutrient concentrations that lead to excessive algal growth in the Illinois River.
“The nutrient concentrations that cause a noticeable increase in algae growth are critical in normal rivers also, but by law scenic rivers have extra protection to preserve their high quality and unique characteristics,” said Phillips. “The goal is to implement a standard in these systems that may result in essentially no noticeable algal growth.”
“The appointment of Shanon Phillips to this committee by Governor Fallin recognizes the important work Shanon and the Commission’s Water Quality Division have been doing in the Illinois River watershed for the past 25 years,” said Mike Thralls, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. “Shanon brings excellent technical credentials to the committee. I commend the governor for selecting Shanon.”
Oklahoma’s current phosphorous standard for its six scenic rivers is 0.037 mg/L but levels are often found to be in the range of 0.005 - 1.45 mg/L or higher in segments of the Illinois River. Sources of phosphorous in freshwater include runoff from urban development, agricultural operations, soil and streambank erosion, and wastewater and industrial discharges.
The committee plans to use the results of the study to further investigate whether the current standard is an appropriate number to protect the scenic rivers from excessive algae growth.
The other Oklahoma members appointed by Governor Fallin are Derek Smithee, chief of water quality at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, and Shellie Chard-McClary, director of water quality at the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
Conservation Partnership Develops Online Prescribed Fire Training
Article courtesy of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission
The Oklahoma Conservation Commission has been working cooperatively with the US Fish and Wildlife Service since 2008 to provide funding to local prescribed bun associations, through conservation districts, to promote prescribed burning as a management tool. Now the basic prescribed fire training is available online at no charge.
This online training is the first tier of a three-tiered training model developed by the partnership of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Oklahoma State University – NREM.
"We are very pleased that this tool is now widely available," said Mike Thralls, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. "The partners have worked years educating on the importance of fire in the landscape. Prescribed fire helps prevent catastrophic, uncontrollable wildfires that devastate people and property."
Tier one, the online portion of the training, includes reading assignments, a video, and a quiz. Topics include fire prescriptions, fire effects, firebreaks, ignition techniques, smoke management, and the best time of year to burn. A module on Oklahoma fire law is also included. Participants who score a 90% or better can receive a certificate of completion.
Tier two of the training is offered as an in-person seminar and includes a prescribed fire field exercise. The partnership has sponsored four of these seminars since January 2013 attended by more than 240 participants. Tier three covers working with neighbors to get experience with prescribed burns.
The NRCS plans to use Basic Prescribed Fire Training as an educational course for its employees. The USFWS Partners for Wildlife program has awarded grant funds exceeding $440,000 to provide training and equipment for the use of implementing prescribed fire on the Oklahoma landscape.
Click here to watch the FOX25 interview with John Weir, research associate in OSU's
Natural Resource Ecology and Management department, who says
"Intentionally we burn between one and two million acres a year in this
How To Access the Training
• Go to http://campus.extension.org
• Click on Energy & Environment (blue box)
• In the sub -categories box, click on Rangelands
• Click on Basic Prescribed Fire Training
• Click Continue
• Create a new account & start
Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts receives grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation to help with National Land and Range Judging Contest
Oklahoma City--As part of their continuing commitment to Oklahoma and the health of its environment, the Kirkpatrick Foundation of Oklahoma has awarded a grant to the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) to help cover costs associated with the 2013 National Land and Range Judging contest that was held in Oklahoma City May 1st and 2nd. This is the second year in a row that the Kirkpatrick Foundation has helped sponsor the contest
“We are honored to again have the Kirkpatrick Foundation as our partner in recognizing the outstanding youth from throughout the United States that come to compete in this contest,” Kim Farber, President of OACD said. “Their help in sponsoring this program and their commitment to protecting and conserving our natural resources is greatly appreciated. They are truly committed to the conservation and protection of our soil, water, air, and wildlife habitats.”
Each year The National Land and Range contest brings together over 1,000 contestants and sponsors from throughout the United States to Oklahoma City to compete in a three-day event that stresses soil and plant science, land management and conservation.
The Land Judging contestants qualify for the national event by placing among the top five teams at contests in their home states. The teens match their skills in judging the adaptability of the land for various purposes including farming, range management and home development. The skills these teens apply at the contest involve principles they can apply in career fields like environmental and agricultural management, natural resource conservation, homebuilding and construction. According to Farber, this donation by the Kirkpatrick Foundation will greatly help the continuation of this national event in Oklahoma.
“All Oklahomans should be proud of the fact that our state has hosted this outstanding event for 62 years,” Farber said. “With the committed help of folks like the Kirkpatrick Foundation, we can ensure that this great program continues on into the future. We are proud to once again be hosting this event in Oklahoma and we are once again very grateful to the Kirkpatrick Foundation for their support.”
Call for Interfaith Days of Prayer for Rain and Water Stewardship Kicks Off at Oklahoma State Capitol
Oklahoma City—On April 22, 2013, interfaith leaders from around Oklahoma joined hands and called on all citizens of all faiths to come together on May 1, June 26 and September 18 to collectively pray for rain and to learn more about being good stewards of our water. According to the Rev. Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, this is a duty all Oklahoman’s should share.
"Any moisture we have should be recognized for what it is; a truly precious gift,” Rev. Tabbernee said. “We should treat it accordingly to the grace with which it was given, especially as we prepare to re-enter the summer months.”
Tabbernee’s words were offered as part of the kick-off event for statewide Days of Prayer for Rain and Water Stewardship, a cooperative effort of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), the Oklahoma Conference of Churches and the Whole Creation Community, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma. The initial event, held at the state capitol, was designed to bring both religious and secular leaders together according to Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.
“Both spiritual and temporal leaders have a role to play when it comes to water,” Pope said. “It’s our duty as people of faith to remember our call to be good stewards of the earth and to petition for relief and aid during times of drought but we also have an earthly responsibility to practice good policy and wisely use our resources. Hopefully this effort can highlight both of these needs.”
Those in attendance at the event were joined by Oklahoma Lt. Governor Todd Lamb who addressed the crowd on the importance of being good stewards of our water, not just during a time of drought, but every day and every year.
“Water is our most precious resource without a doubt,” Lamb said. “You can live about a month without food but you can only live about a week without water. While we pray for rain we have to be mindful about how we treat this vital natural resource and work to protect it not just for ourselves, but for future generations.”
The Oklahoma Interfaith Days of Prayer for Rain and Water Stewardship effort will involve local events held throughout the state to help bring all Oklahoman’s together to focus on water and its importance. All Oklahoman’s are called on to take part cooperatively to focus our energy and effort on calling for continued rain and learning how each of us can better protect and conserve our water.
“Oklahoma is still in a drought and we should be mindful of that,” The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Episcopal Bishop and Professor of Native American Ministries at Oklahoma City Universities Saint Paul school of theology said. “In the Book of Mathew, we are called on to be as wise as serpents but innocent as doves; this means we should be wise in our action while we attempt to do no harm. Caring for our water is our duty as believers while we continue to ask our Lord for rain. While we pray for continued precipitation, we should also take care of what we already have been given. It’s our hope these days of prayer and stewardship awareness will help remind all Oklahomans to do just that."
For more information about the Oklahoma Interfaith Days of Prayer for Rain, visit www.okpray4rain.org.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—April 11, 2013— As we enter the 2014 appropriations cycle and Congress begins work on a 2013 Farm Bill, the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) continues to call on Congress to make conservation on working lands a priority. With yesterday's release of the President's Budget, along with the House and Senate Budgets passed earlier this year, the blueprint for writing appropriations bills remains unsettled. The President's Budget proposes significant cuts to technical assistance (TA) in addition to cuts already being made at the state level. Specifically, the President's Budget would cut more than 230 staff years out of TA and include additional costs for producers for conservation planning.
"A reduction in technical assistance hours would have major impacts on the ability of conservation districts and partners to continue working with local landowners in the implementation of quality conservation on the ground," said NACD President Earl Garber. "As we work to increase accountability, transparency and flexibility in conservation programs, we need more technical assistance, not less. The long-term health of our land and natural resources begins with the successful leveraging of strong partnerships at the local, state and federal level, working with landowners to provide voluntary incentives and the proper tools and assistance to put conservation where it counts."
NACD looks forward to working with the Congress to ensure producers and landowners have the tools and assistance they need to continue to provide the food and fiber for our growing population, while at the same time preserving and protecting our precious natural resources for future generations.
The National Association of Conservation Districts is the non-profit organization that represents the nation's 3,000 conservation districts, their state associations and the 17,000 men and women who serve on their governing boards. For more than 70 years, local conservation districts have worked with cooperating landowners and managers of private working lands to help them plan and apply effective conservation practices. For more information about NACD, visit: www.nacdnet.org.
Oklahoma Top State in Controlling Harmful Nutrients in Water According to EPA
Oklahoma City— A recent comparison of EPA priority nonpoint source pollutant reduction numbers from across the nation shows that Oklahoma again ranks as the number one state when it comes to reducing harmful nutrients from our streams and rivers. This is the second year in a row that Oklahoma has ranked number one among states in reported non-point source nutrient reductions and the fourth year for the state to be in the top 10, according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).
“This continued improvement in addressing water quality is a testimony to the success of the dedicated work done by farmers, ranchers and other landowners in partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, local conservation districts, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act 319 programs and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to address this critical issue,” Farber said.
“This success shows what can happen when we work together, respect individuals’ private property rights and when the state and federal governments give landowners the financial and technical assistance they need to make changes. Locally-led, voluntary conservation works.”
Water quality numbers recently reported by states to the EPA show that in 2012, Oklahoma’s Nonpoint Source Program led the nation in phosphorus reduction with more than 2,443,752 pounds of estimated phosphorus load reduced due to voluntary best management practices across the state. In addition, Oklahoma ranked first among the states in reducing nitrogen loading, reducing an estimated 2,695,211 pounds of nitrogen last year. Oklahoma also had an estimated sediment reduction of over 10,000 tons. When these numbers are reviewed in EPA’s national Nonpoint Source Database, comparison with the levels of nonpoint source pollution reduced by other states shows that Oklahoma ranks number one in the reduction of nutrients that pollute our water. This is the second year in a row where Oklahoma has led the nation in reduction of nutrients while receiving less than three percent of all federal EPA nonpoint source pollution funds.
According to Clay Pope, Executive Director of OACD, this reduction shows the success of locally-led conservation efforts in addressing non-point source pollution and helps highlight why locally-led incentive based programs are critical to ongoing efforts designed to address water quality both at the state and federal level.
“By using the delivery system consisting of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, local conservation districts and NRCS, we have been able to use EPA 319 Federal Clean Water Act dollars and Farm Bill Conservation Title funds along with state dollars to partner with landowners in ways that are starting to turn the corner on some of Oklahoma’s toughest water quality problems,” Pope said. “We’re not only controlling pollution, but we are also taking into consideration the financial situation of the local landowner. This is the same kind of approach we used to tame the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s and these numbers show it’s working again in the water quality area. Clearly we have a great model and it needs to be included in discussions surrounding water both in Oklahoma and the nation. You can have all the water in the world, but if it isn’t fit to drink, you don’t have much. These numbers prove that we are moving in
the right direction in Oklahoma when it comes to water quality and we hope that our policy makers will continue to recognize what can be done when landowners and the government work cooperatively to solve these kinds of problems.”