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New USDA portal enables farmers, ranchers to request conservation assistance online

May 28, 2015 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners can now do business with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through a new online portal.  With this week’s launch of Conservation Client Gateway, producers will have the ability to work with conservation planners online to access Farm Bill programs, request assistance and track payments for their conservation activities.

“What used to require a trip to a USDA service center can now be done from a home computer through Conservation Client Gateway,” Vilsack said. “USDA is committed to providing effective, efficient assistance to its clients, and Conservation Client Gateway is one way to improve customer service."

Conservation Client Gateway enables farmers, ranchers and private landowners to securely:
•    Request NRCS technical and financial assistance;
•    Review and sign conservation plans and practice schedules;
•    Complete and sign an application for a conservation program;
•    Review, sign and submit contracts and appendices for conservation programs;
•    Document completed practices and request certification of completed practices;
•    Request and track payments for conservation programs; and
•    Store and retrieve technical and financial files, including documents and photographs.

Conservation Client Gateway is entirely voluntary, giving producers a choice between conducting business online or traveling to a USDA service center.

“Our goal is to make it easy and convenient for farmers and ranchers to work with USDA,” Vilsack said. “Customers can log in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to electronically sign documents, apply for conservation programs, access conservation plans, report practice completion, or track the status of conservation payments. Through Conservation Client Gateway, producers have their conservation information at their fingertips and they can save time and gas money by reducing the number of trips to USDA service centers.”

Conservation Client Gateway is available to individual landowners and will soon be extended to business entities, such as Limited Liability Corporations. It is part of the agency’s ongoing Conservation Delivery Streamlining Initiative, which will feature additional capabilities in the future.

The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) praised the new online portal in a statement released following its rollout.

"The Conservation Client Gateway is an exciting new tool that will save precious time and money for farmers, ranchers and private landowners, by providing them the ability to manage online and on their own time a number of administrative functions that could previously only be handled in-person at a USDA service center," said NACD President Lee McDaniel.

For more information about Conservation Client Gateway, visit: www.nrcs.usda.gov/clientgateway.

Spring Flood Damage Prevention Exceeds Annual Average

May 27, 2015—Due to heavy rainfall, Oklahoma’s 2,107 flood control dams have exceeded their annual average damage prevention value in less than two months.

On average, the dams prevent $88 million in flood damage annually. For the period of April 18-May 25, the dams prevented $96.3 million in flood damage to land, homes and businesses, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Water Resource Office. NRCS estimates an additional $21.4 million in damage would have been avoided if 331 dams planned, but not built, were in place.

For Memorial Day Weekend alone, flood control dams provided $35.4 million in damage mitigation. Were the 331 planned, but unfunded, dams in place, an additional $6.1 million in damage would have been avoided.

Note: Damage mitigation values for specific watersheds are available with 24 hours’ notice by contacting Robert Hathorne at 405-437-9171 or robert.hathorne@conservation.ok.gov.
From Drought to Flood: The Hammon Story
Story provided by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission

May 26, 2015—One town, two droughts, two floods, two very different results.

Straddling the boundaries of Roger Mills and Custer Counties in a river bend where the Washita River joins Big Kiowa Creek, sits the small town of Hammon. During the Dust Bowl, Hammon baked beneath crushing drought. Crops withered and herds dwindled. Poor land management left the soil hard, erodible and, most cruelly, nearly impervious to water.

When rain finally came to Hammon in April 1934, the hard ground was ill prepared to accept the 14 inch downpour. When its tributaries flooded, the Washita River swelled two miles beyond its banks. The flood that swept through Hammon stole 17 lives and caused $53 million dollars in damage adjusted to today’s dollars. Families, homes, roads, bridges, railroads and crops all suffered.

After four years of drought, spring 2015 has again brought rains to the town of Hammon. The area received 26 inches of rain between April and May—twice that received in the same period in 1934.
 
“The dams are making the difference,” said Nena Wells, Upper Washita Conservation District manager. “We’d likely be underwater if it weren’t for them.”

Wells is referring to the 143 flood control dams constructed in Roger Mills County since the 1950s. This network of dams, built along tributary streams of larger rivers, is designed to capture and slow the flow of water as it moves downstream. Compared to zero percent flood control in 1934, the dam network has captured 58 percent of floodwater upstream of Hammon this, according to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Water Resource Office estimates. As a result, damage in town was minimal.

During Memorial Day weekend, watershed experts with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and the National Watershed Coalition surveyed flood control structures from a helicopter.

“We are seeing damage—flooded fields, washed out roads, but nothing like the devastation witnessed in the 1934 floods, and certainly much less that what we would see if the dams weren’t in place,” said Trey Lam, OCC executive director. “Our most important observation is that the dams are functioning as designed.”

Continuous investment in dam maintenance by OCC and conservation districts has kept the structures in peak condition to handle the workload they have been dealt over the last several weeks. To assure the dams’ continued safe function in the future, regular maintenance must remain an ongoing priority.
Floodwater looms behind a dam upstream of Elk City.
Turkey Creek dam 4 holds back floodwater north of I-40.
Cattle graze beneath a functioning dam in Western Oklahoma.

Photos provided by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.
USDA to Invest Additional $21 million in Water Conservation, Resilience across Drought-Stricken States Including Oklahoma

May 18, 2015 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest approximately $21 million in additional Farm Bill dollars to help farmers and ranchers apply science-based solutions to mitigate the short and long term effects of drought. These investments will focus financial and technical assistance in the most severely drought-stricken areas in eight states to help crop and livestock producers apply conservation practices that increase irrigation efficiency, improve soil health and productivity, and ensure reliable water sources for livestock operations.

"Since the historic drought of 2012, dry conditions have persisted in many parts of the country, particularly in the West," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Every day, NRCS conservationists work side-by-side with agricultural producers and help them conserve water and increase resilience in their operations. Today's investment will provide additional resources in drought-stricken areas to help farmers and ranchers implement solutions to mitigate the impacts of sustained drought."

Today's announcement expands on the substantial efforts already underway to help producers conserve water, improve soil health and build long term agricultural resilience into their operations. Already this year, NRCS state offices have targeted significant portions of their fiscal year Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) allocations to address water conservation, soil health, and resilience. In California, for example, more than $27 million of fiscal year 2015 EQIP funding is directed towards beneficial drought management practices.

With today's announcement, NRCS will provide an additional $21 million in technical and financial assistance through EQIP to target areas that are experiencing either exceptional or extreme drought conditions as of the May 5, 2015 U.S. Drought Monitor, which includes parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. The EQIP funding will allow NRCS to help producers apply selected conservation practices to better deal with the effects of drought in their operations, including prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, cover crops, nutrient management, irrigation systems, and other water conservation practices. On average, farmers and ranchers contribute half the cost of implementing conservation practices.

Between 2012 and 2014, NRCS invested more than $1.5 billion in financial and technical assistance to help producers implement conservation practices that improve water use efficiency and build long term health of working crop, pasture, and range lands. These practices include building soil health by using cover crops and no-till, which allow the soil to hold water longer and buffer roots from higher temperatures; improving the efficiency of irrigation systems; and implementing prescribed grazing to relieve pressure on stressed vegetation.

NRCS is also leveraging partner investments through the new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to put further resources toward projects that foster water conservation and resilience. In the first round of RCPP funding last year, NRCS committed more than $84 million in 35 projects that address water conservation and soil health. These funds will be matched dollar-for-dollar by our partners, resulting in a total investment of nearly $190 million in water conservation and resilience across the country. In May, Vilsack announced a second round of RCPP funding availability that will make up to $235 million available for targeted conservation, highlighting drought and water conservation as a resource concern for potential projects.

Earlier this month, NRCS announced $6.5 million in additional drought-related funding through the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative. This investment will support targeted, local efforts to protect the quality and extend the availability of water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies about 225,000 square miles of the Great Plains and supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States.

Through the creation of the National Drought Resilience Partnership, launched as part of the President's Climate Action Plan, federal agencies are working closely with states, tribes and local governments to develop a coordinated response to drought. For information on USDA's drought efforts, visit USDA Disaster and Drought Information. And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the NRCS' drought resources. View information by state.

Producers and landowners are encouraged to visit the NRCS website or stop by their local NRCS office to find out if they are eligible for this new funding. Learn more about and EQIP and other NRCS programs.

Today's announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life.

2015 NACD South Central Regional Meeting to be held in Tulsa, Okla.


The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts will host the 2015 National Association of Conservation Districts South Central Regional Meeting, August 9-11 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tulsa, Okla. The three-day meeting, "Rock'n for Conservation," will include educational tours, informational speakers and a jammin’ social scene.

Hotel Reservations:

Rates: $83.00 per night plus 8.35% sales tax and 5% occupancy tax.

Online at www.hardrockcasinotulsa.com. Be sure to enter your Group Code "OACDAug2015."

By phone at 1-800-760-6700 and reference “NACD South Central Region Meeting 2015."

Deadline to reserve rooms:  Sunday, July 19, 2015.

 

Meeting Registration:

To register for the meeting, download a registration packet here.

Please complete a separate form for each registrant. Payment is required prior to processing registration and attendance. A credit card processing fee of 4% applies to all credit card purchases.
Pre-registration is defined as registrations received on or before midnight CST on July 19, 2015.
Registration is defined as registrations received after midnight on CST on July 19, 2015.


Questions? Contact Sarah Blaney at sarahblaney@okconservation.org.

OACD Auxiliary Now Accepting Scholarship Applications

The South Central Regional Auxiliary is now accepting scholarship applications. The award is intended to encourage qualified students to increase their interest in and  awareness of the mission of conservation, as well as to encourage them to pursue a career in their field of endeavor. Applicants must be a child or grandchild of a District Director, Conservation Employee, OCC Employee or NRCS Employee seeking a higher education at a trade school, college or university. Application deadline is July 31, 2015. Download an application by clicking here or contact Dianne Jeans with any questions at 580/628-2223.

Millions in damages prevented by dams, conservation practices during historic May rainfall
 
May 12, 2015—Oklahoma’s network of 2,107 flood control dams and voluntary conservation practices prevented an estimated $22.57 million in flood damages from the May 1-9 storms according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Water Resource Office.

“The flood control network was designed to protect farmland, roads, bridges, homes and lives, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen over the last week of rainfall,” said Trey Lam, Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) executive director. “Like any form of infrastructure, operation and maintenance of these dams is critical if we hope to continue reaping the benefits they provide.”

According to Oklahoma Mesonet, May 2015 is so far the wettest since 1921. Some of the hardest working dam clusters over the last 10 days include:

-Fourche Maline Creek watershed, Latimer County, 14 dams, 9.97 inches of rain, $819,272 in damage prevented.

-Upper Clear Boggy Creek watershed, Coal, Johnston, and Pontotoc Counties, 49 dams, 10.1 inches of rain, $1,029,641 in damage prevented.

- Sandy Creek watershed, Garvin and Pontotoc Counties, 29 dams, 8.11 inches of rain, $764,362 in damage prevented.

-Okfuskee Tributaries, Okfuskee and Okmulgee Counties, 29 dams, 7.89 inches of rain, $693,985 in damage prevented.

Rainfall averages from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Local conservation districts and the private landowners they work with also deserve credit for this success,” said Gary O’Neill, NRCS state conservationist. “It’s important we not lose sight of the other side of the coin—soil health. Healthy soils achieved through voluntary conservation practices are crucial to halting the extensive flood and wind related erosion witnessed in this state during the 1930s and ‘50s.”

Practices such as no-till farming and stream bank fencing mean stabilizing ground cover is in place when floodwaters rise. Due to higher levels of organic matter above and within the soil, healthy soil withstands flooding, erosion and drought better than bare or plowed soil.

“High residue, no-till and cover crops build soil that is more resilient to climate extremes—both flood and drought.” said Greg Scott, OCC soil scientist. “Organic matter, earthworms and roots hold soil in place and provide pathways through the soil for water to infiltrate. Bare soil seals off, crusts over and can be almost as ineffective as concrete at absorbing water, especially in flood events.”

Resolution Recognizes Value of Locally-Led Soil and Water Conservation Efforts

A bipartisan, concurrent resolution recently introduced in the U.S. Senate and House recognizes the value of locally-led soil and water conservation and the role of conservation districts within those efforts across the nation.
 
"We're pleased to see a bipartisan group of representatives in Washington voicing their support for our nation's soils and locally-led natural resource conservation, and their critical value to our nation's economic and food security," said National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) President Lee McDaniel. "Providing for a projected world population of nine billion by 2050, while preserving our precious natural resource base, will require a coordinated, voluntary, incentive-based approach to private land conservation with participation from local, state and federal stakeholders."
 
The Senate resolution, S. Con. Res. 10, was introduced by Agriculture Committee members Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), John Boozman (R-AR); the House resolution, H.Con.Res.30, was introduced by the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee's Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee Representatives Glenn Thompson (R-PA-5) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM-1), and Representatives Gregg Harper (R-MS-3) and Walter Jones (R-NC-3). The resolution is also supported by the Soil Science Society of America.
 
Specifically, the resolution expresses support for: the designation of the year of 2015 as the "International Year of Soils," public participation in activities celebrating the importance of soils, and soil conservation through partnerships with the nation's 3,000 locally-led soil and water conservation districts. It also encourages landowner participation in federal conservation programs including the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, and the Small Watershed Program. In passing this resolution, Congress will also be recognizing the 80th anniversary of the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 which created the Soil Conservation Service (now the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service) and the conservation district movement in the U.S.
 
Soil health has been a top priority for NACD in recent years. "The nation's conservation districts are well positioned to help lead one of the most important conservation movements of our time," McDaniel said. "The soil health movement continues to gain momentum across the nation; conservation districts are at the forefront of these efforts, working in close partnership with local, state and federal partners to assist producers and landowners in the education, planning and implementation of soil conservation at the local level."
 
NACD is urging all members of Congress to sign on as cosponsors to show their support for soil health and the value of locally-led soil and water conservation efforts.
Hundreds Dig in for National Land and Range Contest

More than 100 FFA and 4H teams representing 34 states will converge on Oklahoma City for the 64th annual National Land and Range Judging Contest May 5-7. This outdoor contest challenges participants to apply their knowledge of soil and plant science, land management and natural resource conservation in practical scenarios.

“Contestants are gaining skills that can be directly applied to a career in natural resource conservation,” said Steve House, President of Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, a contest sponsor. “Then there’s the economic benefit of having nearly 1,000 contestants and coaches spending three days in Oklahoma City. It’s a win for everyone.”

Tuesday, May 5 - Thursday, May 7, 2015
8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

WHAT:         
Outdoor contest where participants are challenged to judge the quality of soils and rangeland for agricultural and residential development purposes.

WHERE:     
- Best place to speak with teams is Arcadia Lake practice site on Tuesday and Wednesday.
- Event headquarters at Biltmore Hotel, South Ballroom, 401 S. Meridian, OKC.
- Official site location is need-to-know for contest integrity.

WHO:          
FFA and 4-H teams representing 34 states
Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts
Oklahoma Conservation Commission
 USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
 Oklahoma State University

For more information, contact Robert Hathorne at robert.hathorne@conservation.ok.gov or 405-437-9171.
Filing Period for 86 Local Conservation District Positions Opens May 1

April 27, 2015—Citizens interested in running for the position of conservation district board member may file from May 1-14, 2015. Eligible candidates must complete a Notification and Declaration of Candidacy form found on the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s (OCC) website here or at their local conservation district office. A listing of conservation district offices is available here.

An eligible candidate is a registered voter within the boundaries of the conservation district and has entered or will enter into a Cooperator Agreement with the conservation district. Local elections will be held on June 2, 2015 in every district where two or more candidates have filed. Polling places will be determined at the close of filing period.

Conservation district boards are made up of five directors responsible for setting the conservation priorities within their district. Three members are elected by registered votes within the district boundaries and two are appointed by OCC upon recommendation by the district board.

For further information about conservation district board member elections, please contact OCC at 405-521-4826 or your local conservation district office.

Banks flooding on Washita River, flood control dams fully functional

April 20, 2015 - Upper Washita Conservation District in Roger Mills County reports flooding along the Washita River. The district reports flood control structures are functioning as designed—trapping large volumes of water and slowing it as it makes its way downstream.
 
Over six inches of rain from April 12-17 has challenged the region’s drought damaged soil. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), one inch of rain is equal to about 27,154 gallons of water per acre. Extremely dry soil is highly erodible and absorbs water much slower than healthy soil.

Roger Mills County is home to 143 flood control structures. In total, Oklahoma’s conservation districts operate and maintain 2,107 flood control structures across the state. Prior to their construction beginning in the 1950s, many parts of Oklahoma flooded regularly.

Oklahoma’s flood control structures provide $82 million in annual benefits which include flood water impoundment, water supply, recreation, wildlife habitat and firefighting.

The Washita River is shown spilling over
its banks north of Cheyenne, OK in Roger Mills County.

Fast flowing flood water captured by Upper
Washita Dam #59 is slowly released downstream by the principal spillway.

Dust Bowl Survivors to Tell Their Story on Black Sunday 80th Anniversary

Ernest Herald recalls a rabbit hunt cut short by stinging gales of dust, forcing him to lay face down in a field until the storm passed. Betty Ann Lam's family was driving to church when they saw the black dust cloud chasing them down the highway. Pauline Hodges remembers her father’s words: “the worst part about the Dust Bowl, is that I helped cause it.” He was a farmer from the Panhandle.

On the 80th Anniversary of Black Sunday, join us in recording the memories and lessons of those who survived this vital period in our nation’s history.

WHEN:        Tuesday, April 14, 2015, 9 – 10 a.m.
 
WHAT:          Panel discussion with Dust Bowl survivors to commemorate their harrowing ordeal and recognize what citizens and conservation districts are doing today to ensure Oklahoma never again succumbs to the dust.

WHERE:      Oklahoma State Capitol, Second Floor, Blue Room    

WHO:            30-50 Dust Bowl survivors
                        Governor Mary Fallin (invited)
                        Members of the Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives
                        Trey Lam, Executive Director, Oklahoma Conservation Commission
                        Gary O’Neill, State Conservationist, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
                        Jordan Shearer, Project Director, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts

Note: Many of our Dust Bowl survivors are happy to speak with the media. To arrange on or off-site interviews, contact Robert Hathorne at 405-437-9171 or robert.hathorne@conservation.ok.gov.

Black Sunday, April 14, 1935, was a massive dust storm that blackened the sky over many states. It began in the Oklahoma Panhandle and, days later, was settling dust upon window sills in Washington, D.C. and ships 300 miles off the East Coast.

Awards Presented During Conservation Day at the Capitol


March 24, 2015 - The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) sponsored “Conservation Day at the Capitol” on Monday March 23, 2015. The Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) co-sponsored the event. Several of the state’s local conservation districts displayed exhibits at the event along with partner agencies and organizations. 


The exhibits were displayed in the Capitol Rotunda on the 4th floor from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The displays featured diverse conservation activities across the state and addressed local natural resource needs. 

Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Executive Director Trey Lam, Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma Executive Director Mike Fuhr, 2015 Outstanding Landowner/Cooperator Danny Shepherd and OACD President Steve House.

Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Executive Director Trey Lam, Billy Cook with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, 2014 Outstanding District Director Walt Freese and OACD President Steve House.

Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Executive Director Trey Lam, Tom Robins with Chesapeake Energy Company, representatives from the 2014 Outstanding Conservation District - Kay County and OACD President Steve House.
Senator Ron Justice welcomed the conservation districts at an awards ceremony held in the State Senate Chamber and said, “OACD and the conservation partnership works to promote voluntary conservation that is not just helping agriculture producers, but all Oklahomans.”


Representative Leslie Osborne and Secretary of Agriculture, Jim Reese were also present.


OACD Board President, Steve House, and Vice-President, Dan Herald, emceed the awards ceremony. Dr. Dan Sebert, Vice-President of the OACD Board presented Western Farmer’s Electrical Cooperative with the “Friend of Conservation” award for their work on the Oklahoma Carbon Program. Kent Fletcher, Environmental Specialist at Western Farmer’s accepted the award.

The Outstanding Landowner/Cooperator Award was sponsored by the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma and was awarded to Danny Shepherd. Shepherd was nominated by the Kay County Conservation District. The Outstanding District Director Award is sponsored by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and was awarded to Walt Freese. Freese was nominated by the Noble County Conservation District. The Outstanding District Award is sponsored by Chesapeake Energy and was awarded to the Kay County Conservation District. 


Lisa Knauf-Owen, OCC Assistant Director, and Mark Thomas, Executive Vice-President of the Oklahoma Press Associated presented the Excellence in Communications awards. Deer Creek Conservation District received first place and Kay County Conservation District received second place in the Excellence in Communications category. The Excellence in Innovative Communication was awarded to the Woodward County Conservation District and second place was award to the Caney Valley Conservation District. Carla McBride of the Anadarko Daily News was recognized for the Outstanding Support of Conservation by an OPA Member Newspaper. McBride was nominated by the South Caddo Conservation District. Scott Cloud of the Newkirk Herald Journal was recognized as the Outstanding Continuing Publisher Support of Conservation Coverage. Cloud was nominated by the Kay County Conservation District. 


John Weir with the Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association presented the Carrying the Torch award to Harry Fritzler, retired NRCS Range Management Specialist. The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation and the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma were both awarded the Friend of Fire for their efforts to promote, raise awareness of, and use prescribed fire.

Oklahoma Tops EPA Charts for Pollution Reduction to Waterways
 
March 23, 2015— Oklahoma ranks second among the states for protecting waterways from harmful nutrients according to new EPA data. This is the sixth year in a row Oklahoma has ranked in the top five states for nonpoint source (NPS) pollution reductions.
 
Oklahoma ranks second for phosphorus reduction (358,469 pounds) and third for nitrogen reduction (856,906 pounds) to streams. These nutrients are major contributors to algal bloom issues in the state’s reservoirs which can challenge water treatment facilities, lead to fish kills and, in rare cases, pose a risk to human health.
 
Oklahoma receives less than two percent of EPA Clean Water Act Section 319 funds, yet meets between 20-30 percent of EPA’s national NPS reduction goals annually. The state’s NPS reduction numbers are based solely on the voluntary implementation of conservation practices by farmers and ranchers across the state—no regulation is involved. “This success is proof that voluntary, incentive based conservation is the best method of protecting our soil and water resources,” said Trey Lam, Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) executive director.
 
Conservation practices that promote soil health such as no-till farming, and allowing natural vegetation to grow along stream banks can drastically reduce the amount of runoff that flows into streams. Oklahoma’s model allows local conservation districts to determine conservation priorities, then addresses those priorities with resources rather than regulations. This local approach has been successful since reversing the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.
 
OCC will build on Oklahoma’s success with a number of new initiatives in 2016, including two Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects in partnership with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Focusing on the Elk City Lake and Grand Lake watersheds, these projects will fund conservation practices along streams to improve water quality in the reservoirs downstream. Learn more about these projects here.
 
“We’re very fortunate to have a legislature that funds NPS water quality monitoring,” said Shanon Phillips, OCC Water Quality Division director. “Not only are we able to provide the public with resources to implement conservation practices with Section 319 funds, we can scientifically verify results through state funded professional monitoring—Oklahoma is unique in this regard.”
 
Monitoring results are viewable on Oklahoma’s Interactive Stream Health Map. Currently in beta, the map offers nearly a decade of water quality data from over 200 monitoring sites: bit.ly/StreamHealth. More sites and years of data will be added in the coming months.

Conservation Day at the Capitol set for March 23, 2015; Press Conference to Announce Oklahoma Ranks Among Nation’s Best for Water Quality Improvement
 
Drought mitigation, food production, access to clean water—healthy soils and streams are vital to a resilient and prosperous Oklahoma. On March 23, learn why the Oklahoma model of locally-led, non-regulatory conservation is the proven best way to protect our soil and water resources. Everyone is invited to join local conservation districts and their agency, tribal, non-profit and private partners for a celebration of the voluntary conservation legacy that began in the Dust Bowl.

In addition, join us at 10:45 a.m. in Room 432 B for a press conference to announce the EPA’s latest Nonpoint Source Pollution Program load reduction numbers and commentary from the experts who understand the Sooner state’s continued success. New EPA data shows Oklahoma is once again a national leader in reducing pollution runoff into our state’s waters.
 
Conservation Day Agenda
Oklahoma State Capitol

Exhibits: Fourth Floor Rotunda, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Awards Ceremony: Senate Chamber, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m.
Press Conference: Room 432 B, 10:45 – 11:10 a.m.
Presentation, Youth Volunteers in Action: Fourth Floor Rotunda, 11:15 – 11:45 a.m.
 
 To arrange on or off-site interviews with any of the partners listed above, contact Robert Hathorne at 405-437-9171 or Robert.Hathorne@conservation.ok.gov.

Oklahoma Invasive Plant Council and  Oklahoma Pest Action Council to Host Comprehensive Invasive Species Conference 


The Oklahoma Invasive Plant Council and Oklahoma Pest Action Council are co-hosting a comprehensive invasive species meeting Friday, March 13 at the National Weather Center in Norman.


The full day conference will incorporate a variety of invasive species issues important to our state, such as: crop weeds and pests, invasive species management, successful biocontrol of invasives, and information on many different invasive species, including invertebrates, pathogens, plants, and mammals.  The effect of invasives on crops, natural areas, and urban systems will be covered.


Registration fee will include full day conference participation, resource bag, lunch, and break snacks and beverages. In-service credits and CEUs will be offered.


Learn more and register online here.

Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Primed for 77th Annual State Meeting


February 19, 2015−The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) is primed and ready for its annual meeting starting Sunday afternoon, February 22 and running through Tuesday, February 24.  The meeting will take place at the Reed Center in Midwest City.

“This is a great time for the state’s leaders in conservation to get together and chart our course forward for the coming year,” said Kim Farber, OACD President.  “The meeting theme is “Back to the Future” to honor our rich history of accomplishments, while also bringing attention to pressing conservation needs in Oklahoma.”

The meeting will be both entertaining and educational.  The keynote speaker Monday morning will be Oklahoma’s Second District Congressman Markwayne Mullin.   Other topics to be covered include improving soil health, water quality and maintaining upstream flood control dams.

“Its important for everyone to realize that without the diligent work of conservationists over the past eight decades, we would be smack dab in the middle of another dust bowl as we enter our fifth year of crippling drought,” said Farber.    

For more information including meeting agenda and registration information, click here.

Lucas and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Commemorate
One-Year Anniversary of 2014 Farm Bill
 
On Jan. 30, Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) joined U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, in El Reno to discuss the 2014 Farm Bill and its impact on the state of Oklahoma. The legislation has strengthened several agricultural programs, such as crop insurance, while increasing accountability by repealing direct payments and tightening eligibility requirements. The event at Redlands Community College marked the one-year anniversary of the enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill.
 
“I am glad to be in Oklahoma today to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Farm Bill,” said Secretary Vilsack. “The Farm Bill has already created jobs, helped farmers reach new markets at home and abroad and boosted the country's economy. This bill has provided much needed disaster relief and reformed programs to better help farmers manage risk. It has also helped families secure home loans, extended credit to small businesses, and invested in innovative research and conservation partnerships in every state. I want to thank Chairman Lucas once again for his hard work in getting this bipartisan bill through Congress and to the President's desk.”
 
“I appreciate Secretary Vilsack joining me in this forum to discuss the Farm Bill and address the legislation’s implementation with constituents,” said Congressman Lucas. “In addition to saving taxpayers $23 billion, this Farm Bill provides a true safety-net to producers in Oklahoma and the rest of the country. As I stressed during the creation process, the Farm Bill is not written for the good times, but for when times aren’t so good. I am proud of the work we did and look forward to working with the Secretary in continuing to effectively implement the important reforms included in this Farm Bill.”


The 2014 Farm Bill includes $57.6 billion for conservation programs throughout the next 10 years that benefits both agricultural producers and the environment including the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) that is helping to fund three conservation projects in Oklahoma. In addition,  it includes several disaster assistance programs that provide financial assistance to eligible agricultural producers for losses due to agricultural disasters including drought, flooding and other extreme weather.

Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Accepting Applications for Inaugural Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Award

The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF) is accepting nominations for the Oklahoma Excellence in Agriculture Awards, which include three new awards this year. In addition to Governor Fallin's Outstanding Achievement in Agriculture Award that was created in 1998, ODAFF will also be presenting the Outstanding Legacy in Agriculture Award, Outstanding Public Service in Agriculture Award and the Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Award on Oklahoma Ag Day, April 1, 2015, at the State Capitol.

Governor Fallin’s Agriculture Environmental Stewardship Award will recognize Oklahoma agriculturalists that are leaders in developing and adopting outstanding environmentally innovative agricultural practices. This award will highlight the efforts of an Oklahoma agriculture producer who is a steward of the environment and is dedicated to conserving the natural resources of Oklahoma while helping to ensure a continued supply of food and fiber.

The Outstanding Public Service in Agriculture Award will honor an individual who has made outstanding contributions of public service to Oklahoma agriculture, and the Outstanding Legacy to Agriculture Award will posthumously honor someone who made significant life-long contributions to Oklahoma agriculture. As in the past, the Outstanding Achievement in Agriculture Award honors leaders in the agriculture industry who exemplify personal values, performance and achievement. The highest award given by the Governor to honor distinguished Oklahoma agriculture producers, previous recipients have represented different areas of Oklahoma as well as a variety of agricultural groups and commodities.

Nominations are currently being accepted through Friday, Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. The recipients will be selected by a committee of representatives from agricultural commodity organizations and farm and ranch organizations. To learn more about the awards and to download nomination forms, visit www.ag.ok.gov/odaff-halloffame or contact Jason Harvey at (405) 522-5563.

USDA Seeks Applications for Conservation Innovation Grants
 
On Jan. 26, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that applications are being accepted for up to $20 million in grants to facilitate the creation of new, innovative markets for carbon credits, providing additional revenue sources for producers to use to address natural resource conservation challenges. These grants are part of the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program, authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill.

"USDA has been a leader in supporting market-based solutions to improve water quality and reduce carbon pollution," Secretary Vilsack said. "With this opportunity, we are supporting the next generation of projects that will help mature these markets and bring them to scale to benefit both producers and the environment."

For 2015, approximately half of the $20 million is available for environmental markets and conservation finance projects that engage agricultural producers. In past years, CIG has helped fund the development of the basic infrastructure of these markets. This year, USDA, through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking applications for projects that will build on these efforts by maturing and scaling markets and accelerating efforts to leverage private capital and investment in private lands conservation. Improved quantification tools, multi-resource crediting, and projects that substantively engage corporate or financial partners are the types of activities NRCS is pursuing.

As an example, USDA, though CIG, helped fund the development of the first interstate water quality trading program in the Ohio River Basin. Administered by the Electric Power Research Institute, in April, the program is holding its first public auction of water quality credits, generated by farmers in the basin. USDA also funded a project led by the Delta Institute that culminated in the generation and sale of nitrous oxide credits on corn fields in the Midwest. This project demonstrated that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced on cropland while maintaining corn yields.

USDA is also soliciting proposals for projects to stimulate natural resource improvements, including, but not limited to, improvements in water quantity, soil health, and wildlife habitat. Applications from this funding pool may also emphasize expected benefits to historically underserved producers, veterans, and organic producers. Applications in the fields of economics and sociology as they relate to natural resources are also being welcomed.

Under CIG, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds are used to award competitive grants to non-Federal governmental or nongovernmental organizations, Tribes, or individuals. The 2014 Farm Bill also included language that has led to some changes in this year's CIG funding announcement. One change eliminates the requirement that half the applicant's match be in cash. Another expands eligibility for the 10 percent set-aside provision for historically underserved producers.

As in prior years, NRCS will accept pre-proposals for initial review before inviting entities to submit full proposals. Pre-proposals are due Tuesday, February 24, 2015.

To apply electronically, visit www.grants.gov or contact a local NRCS office.
Governor Appoints Deanna LeGrand to Oklahoma Conservation Commission

Governor Mary Fallin announced on January 23, 2015 the appointment of Deanna LeGrand to the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC).


LeGrand succeeds Dean Graumann, who resigned. She will serve the remainder of his five-year term, which expires in June 2019. Her appointment requires state Senate confirmation.


LeGrand is a board member of the Upper Washita Conservation District and, with her husband, Roy, owns LeGrand Farms in Reydon.


“Deanna LeGrand’s background in farming and ranching give her a breadth of knowledge and resources that will be helpful on the Conservation Commission,” said Fallin. “As someone with a career in agriculture, she sees the need for good conservation practices every day. I appreciate her stepping up and taking on this role.”


LeGrand has served on the Upper Washita Conservation District board in Roger Mills County since March 2008. The district has 143 watershed dams, one of the greatest concentrations in the state. In recent years, the district has focused on making local farms and ranches more resilient to drought by offering cost-share assistance to install livestock water tanks and drill water wells. The district also rents out pro-soil health farming equipment such as no-till drills.


“We couldn’t be happier to have such a dedicated conservationist joining the commission,” said Trey Lam, OCC executive director. “Ms. LeGrand’s part of the world has suffered greatly during this latest drought. It’s heartening to know someone who cares so deeply about the land in western Oklahoma will be in a position to help those lands heal.”


LeGrand will represent Conservation Area IV which covers Beckham, Caddo, Comanche, Cotton, Custer, Grady, Greer, Harmon, Jackson, Jefferson, Kiowa, Roger Mills, Stephens, Tillman and Washita counties and portions of Blaine and Canadian counties.

Three Innovative Conservation Projects Forging Creative Partnerships

ELK CITY, Okla., January 16, 2015 – An unprecedented team of local, state, interstate, university, private industry and federal partners has been assembled to tackle some of the region’s most challenging conservation issues. On Jan. 16, Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) announced three far-reaching projects as part of the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). Two OCC-led projects will assist farmers and ranchers with installing conservation practices in the Elk City Lake and Grand Lake watersheds while the OACD-led project will establish conservation demonstration farms across the state.

Gary O’Neill, NRCS State Conservationist emphasized these projects are unique both for the innovative way they are funded and the extensive impact they will have on water quality and soil health beyond their geographic project areas. “These locally-led projects were selected for their potential to have a broad, regional impact,” he said. “We can increase the reach of any one project thanks to the flexibility in how RCPP allows us to fund projects.”

For example, the Elk City Lake watershed project will combine RCPP funds with OCC, the City of Elk City, North Fork of Red River Conservation District and EPA. The list of partners in the OCC-led Grand Lake watershed project is even more extensive, including Grand River Dam Authority, Kansas State University and six conservation districts.

“Algae blooms fueled by excess nutrients are a real concern for livestock and wildlife health in the Elk City Lake watershed,” said Shanon Phillips, OCC Water Quality Division Director. “By pooling resources and working to solve the problem with voluntary conservation practices on private land, we’re building on a model that has been successful in Oklahoma since the Dust Bowl.”

The watershed projects will help fund conservation practices such as alternative water supplies for livestock, stream bank fencing, and no-till farming, which requires less fertilizer and significantly reduces runoff. In order to showcase the viability of such practices across the state, OACD’s Healthy Soils RCPP project will establish up to 10 demonstration farms in several of Oklahoma’s diverse ecoregions.

“Many ag producers have expressed interest in utilizing cover crops and no-till farming, but the upfront costs and risks associated with making changes to a farm operation have made many hesitant to make the switch,” said Jordan Shearer, OACD Project Director. “Our hope is that by demonstrating how beneficial these practices can be both to the environment and a farmer’s bottom line, more will be willing try new practices on their own land.”

Elk City Lake Watershed RCPP Project Factsheet

Grand Lake (Middle and Lower Neosho River Basin) Watershed RCPP Project Factsheet

Oklahoma Healthy Soils RCPP Project Factsheet
OCC Executive Director Trey Lam and OACD Project Director Jordan Shearer.

Blue-green algae blooms and low water levels at Elk City Lake, June 2014.

No-till soybeans grow between rows of protective wheat stubble.
Interim Elk City City Manager Lee Litterell and North Fork of Red River Conservation District board member Jimmy Smith discuss the importance of Elk City Lake to the citizens of western Oklahoma.
Conservation Districts Invited to Apply for Excellence in Communications Awards

Oklahoma conservation districts are invited to apply for the following Excellence in Communications Awards.

  • Excellence in Communications by a Conservation District
  • Excellence in Innovative Communication
  • Outstanding Press Coverage of Conservation
  • Outstanding Continuing Publisher Support of Coverage

Deadline for submissions is January 30, 2015. Award winners will be notified by February 26, 2015 and awards will be presented during Conservation Day at the Capitol on March 23, 2014.
 
The Oklahoma Press Association partners in judging submissions, so just entering the contest is a great way to solicit press interest in your districts.

Download instructions to submit nominations here. Contact Robert Hathorne at

Robert.Hathorne@conservation.ok.gov or 405-437-9171 with any questions.

USDA/OSU Farm Bill Meetings Continue

Producers are encouraged to attend one of the Farm Bill Informational Meetings being held across the state.  Discussion items at each meeting will include Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), Price Loss Coverage (PLC), ARC/PLC Decision Tools, Base Reallocation and Yield Update, Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) and other USDA programs authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.


Meetings currently scheduled include:


El Reno - Dec. 8 - 1:00 p.m. - RCC, Darlington Campus 

Pryor - Dec. 9 - 5:30 p.m. - Northeast Tech Center

Sayre - Dec. 10 - 9:00 a.m. - Beckham Co. Activity Barn

Mangum - Dec. 10 - 2:00 p.m. - 1st Methodist Church

Altus - Dec. 10 - 6:00 p.m. - Western Okla. State College 

Cherokee - Dec. 11 - 12:00 p.m. - Alfalfa Co. Fairgrounds


Find more information here.

Area III Conservation Award Recipients

Area III Outstanding Conservation District 

Sponsored by Chesapeake Energy


Caney Valley Conservation District


Incorporated in 1944, the district serves Washington County as an advocate for the conservation of natural resources. Since the beginning of Oklahoma’s cost-share program, the Caney Valley Conservation District together with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has participated in 14 state cost-share program years.  Through this program, the district has assisted 122 local landowners and has leveraged nearly $320,000 in conservation practices to better conserve and protect our natural resources. In addition, the district provides a variety of outreach programs to educate producers, landowners and residents of Washington County on subjects such as the Dust Bowl, Eastern Red Cedar, soil health and various conservation practices.

Area III Outstanding District Director 

Sponsored by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation


Waymon Montgomery

Caney Valley Conservation District


Waymon Montgomery has served on the Caney Valley Conservation District board for sixteen years. During his eleven years as Chairman of the Board, Waymon led the district to rehabilitate six watersheds including the Double Creek Watershed Project. Mr. Montgomery was instrumental in ensuring the success of the projects by communicating with landowners and partner agencies.

Area III Outstanding District Cooperator
Sponsored by the Nature Conservancy

Samuel Grant Victor, Jr.
Ottawa County Conservation District

Samuel Grant Victor, Jr. learned about the importance of conservation from his grandfather, James Victor, who also served on the Ottawa County Conservation District board from 1946-1953. Grant can remember his grandfather showing him an eroding field with muddy water running off of the land and a field protected by grass with clean water coming off the land. That was the beginning of Grant’s conservation training. Grant has passed on the legacy of conservation to his children and grandchildren.

Distinguished Conservationist Receives Water Pioneer Award


October 22, 2014– Mike Thralls, recently retired Oklahoma Conservation Commission executive director, received the Oklahoma Water Pioneer Award at the Governor’s Water Conference hosted by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board at the Cox Convention Center.

Since 1985, the award has been presented annually to honor Oklahomans who have made significant contributions in the planning, development, management and conservation of Oklahoma’s water resources. During his 17 years of service to the Conservation Commission and on his own farm, Thralls has made considerable contributions. His vision led to the creation of the state’s first Locally-Led Conservation Cost-Share Program, enabling almost 10,000 Oklahoman’s to participate in voluntary natural resource conservation since 1998. He also oversaw establishment of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which has improved water quality in northeast Oklahoma by planting 107,773 trees that filter water runoff from 9,588 acres of land.
 
“Mike’s public service to Oklahomans has manifested in many ways throughout his long and distinguished career,” said OWRB executive director J.D. Strong. “The Oklahoma Water Pioneer Award has been awarded to a renowned group of Oklahomans, who just like Mike, have gone above and beyond to ensure that all Oklahomans have access to clean water resources for many decades to come. Having worked alongside Mike for many years, it is an honor for me to be a part of recognizing his dedication and service to Oklahoma’s water users.”

Past award recipients include Senators Henry Bellmon and Robert S. Kerr, Governors Raymond Gary and George Nigh, and former Conservation Commission executive directors Mason Mungle and Leonard Solomon.

Thralls retired in Sept. 2014 after 17 years as Conservation Commission executive director. He continues to utilize and promote conservation practices beneficial to water quality and soil health on his farm in Billings, Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State University to Host “Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry” Exhibit

Oct. 22, 2014 – “Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry,” a national traveling exhibition about the causes and aftermath of the historic Dust Bowl period, will be on display at the Edmon Low Library at Oklahoma State University from Oct. 22-Dec. 12, 2014. Oklahoma State University was one of only 25 sites nationwide selected to present the exhibit that was developed by the American Library Association Public Programs Office in coordination with the Oklahoma State University Library and the Mount Holyoke College Library.

The exhibition recalls a tragic period in United States history — the drought and dust storms that wreaked havoc on the Great Plains in the 1930s — and explores its environmental and cultural consequences. It raises several thought-provoking questions: What caused fertile farms to turn to dust? How did people survive? What lessons can we learn?

The Dust Bowl was one of the worst man-made ecological disasters in American history. This exhibition delves into the history and geography behind the Dust Bowl, and also provides a human element; through the words of the survivors themselves, we learn what it was like to live through such a difficult time.

“Dust, Drought, and Dreams Gone Dry” will be accompanied by a series of free library programs, including lectures and film screenings. The exhibition and programs feature several overlapping humanities themes: the nature of the connection between humans and nature; the many ways human beings respond to adversity; and how people came to understand and to describe their experiences living through the Dust Bowl. It was made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor.

The exhibition is free and open to the public during library hours. Find more information here.

Oklahoma Conservation Commission Names New Executive Director


Oct. 13, 2014 - Trey Lam, Garvin Conservation District board member and former president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, has been named executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission by the five Commissioners following a special meeting today. He will officially enter service on November 17, 2014.

“Mr. Lam’s extensive professional and personal experience in conservation along with 30 years’ experience in operating his own farm make him the clear choice for this position,” said Karl Jett, Commission Chairman.

Following in the footsteps of his father, who served on the Garvin District board for over 20 years, Lam is a lifelong conservationist who has taken his knowledge of Oklahoma’s land and agriculture to the national stage as Oklahoma’s representative on the National Association of Conservation Districts’ board.

“Trey Lam is an outstanding choice to lead the Oklahoma Conservation Commission,” said Jim Reese, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture. “His leadership in conservation, the conservation districts and conservation programs will be a great asset for the Commission.”

Lam uses the Conservation practices no-till and cover crops to make the most of his land at Lam Farms, where the family raises alfalfa, corn, soybeans, wheat, and cattle. He also works closely with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and OSU to develop farm plans for crop rotation and equipment usage.

Lam’s previous leadership positions include Oklahoma Soybean Association President, Oklahoma Soybean Checkoff board member, Oklahoma Crop Improvement Association President, Oklahoma Alfalfa Hay and Seed Association Vice President, and OSU Dean of Agriculture Advisory Council member. He is a Yale University graduate.

Lam succeeds Mike Thralls, who retired last month after 17 years of service.

NACD Meets with EPA to Discuss Concerns on Proposed "Waters of the U.S." Rule

September 25, 2015—National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) leadership met with representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today to express concerns on behalf of member conservation districts regarding the proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule. Unfortunately representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.

"We appreciate the opportunity to be at the table to represent conservation districts on this important issue," said NACD President Earl Garber. "Our goal in this meeting was to seek clarity on the proposed rule, and to articulate NACD policy developed through our member districts. We strongly believe that the best the way to accomplish the goal of clean water is through a voluntary, incentive-based approach, including the expansion of EPA's 319 and other federal and state programs."

In today's meeting, NACD stressed a number of key requests.

First and foremost, NACD leadership conveyed that the association's policy does not support any increase in jurisdiction proposed by a final rule. NACD requested that EPA take additional time in drafting the rule, in order to incorporate more input from conservation districts and other local officials, and landowners and land-users at the local level.

NACD also asked that better definitions be used to achieve the outcome of clarity. "Clarity on how the rule could impact landowners is extremely important," said NACD President-elect Lee McDaniel. "We are concerned that the rule's terms and definitions do not appropriately reflect the landowners' natural resource and operational diversity across the country, and could possibly have unintended consequences on districts' ability to effectively work with landowners to implement voluntary conservation efforts at the local level."

Additionally, NACD asked that EPA clearly articulate the expected outcome of the rule. EPA must keep in mind the implementation process throughout the writing of the rule, to ensure the rule—as drafted and implemented—will ultimately result in the expected and desired outcome, without impeding landowner involvement in locally-led natural resource conservation efforts that improve water quality.

"Representatives of the EPA clearly recognized the benefits of local districts utilizing the 319 program to get conservation on the ground, resulting in improved water quality in America," said NACD Second Vice President Brent Van Dyke.

NACD plans to submit formal comments on the proposed rule by the deadline.
Oklahoma Soil & Water Experts Invited to Washington, D.C.

by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission
September 25, 2014 – Oklahoma is a national leader in combining local, state, and federal resources to improve water quality. At the invitation of Congressman Frank Lucas and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief, Jason Weller, Oklahoma soil health and water quality experts traveled to Washington, D.C. last week to share the recipe for Oklahoma’s success.

Shanon Phillips, Oklahoma Conservation Commission Water Quality Division director, gave testimony before the U.S. House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry. She explained joint federal and state data collection proves local soil conservation efforts are delivering local results in improved water quality.

“The negative implications of poor soil health on our ability to produce food and maintain acceptable water quality are of national importance,” Phillips testified. Her voice was joined by Weller, National Association of Conservation Districts CEO, John Larson, and local conservation minded farmers.

The testimony was followed by a rainfall simulator demonstration at the NRCS People’s Garden led by Conservation Commission Soil Scientist, Greg Scott. The rainfall simulator shows in real time the link between soil health and water quality by showing how much soil and debris flow into waterways from different surfaces such as pavement, cropland and grassland. The demonstration emphasized the importance of keeping soil covered with vegetation at all times and that pollutants such as oil and trash wash from parking lots into waterways—increasing water treatment costs.

Scott explained how pro-soil health practices in Oklahoma have helped remove 50 streams from EPA’s impaired stream list and sequester carbon dioxide equivalent to the removal of over 4,000 cars from the road annually.

Oklahomans can see rainfall simulator demonstrations at the Oklahoma Wildlife Expo in Guthrie at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday.
Oklahoma Innovators: Citizen Scientists Celebrate 20 Years of Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring & Education

September 23, 2014 – Volunteers from central and western Oklahoma converged on Blue Thumb Conference at Arcadia Lake on Sept. 19-20 to celebrate 20 years of water quality monitoring and education through Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s (OCC) Blue Thumb Program.

Conference attendees got to meet with field leaders in water and soil science, learned about the latest technologies in urban and rural natural resource management and enjoyed kayaking and nature walks. Awards were also presented to exceptional volunteers including some of the first Blue Thumb volunteers and a group of middle school students who published a children’s book on water quality.

“These volunteers are collecting real, credible water quality data. The work of everyday citizens has the potential to change the landscape of water resource management,” said Mike Bira, US EPA Oklahoma Nonpoint Source Program manager, who gave a presentation at the conference.

Founded in 1992, Blue Thumb provides free training and equipment to over 200 volunteers who monitor the health of over 100 Oklahoma streams. The program also provides teaching tools for educational outreach at community events and schools.

Oklahoma isn’t the only state with a volunteer program like Blue Thumb, but professional oversight sets us apart. “Professional water quality monitors review every piece of data collected by our volunteers to insure accuracy and quality,” said Jeri Fleming, OCC environmental programs manager. “Our volunteer data collection goes beyond being a valuable educational exercise—it’s a decision making tool for policy makers.”

Blue Thumb volunteers come from all walks of life and often have little to no professional scientific background. By supplying tools such as rapid habitat assessment and macroinvertebrate identification sheets, Blue Thumb is able to turn any concerned citizen into a scientist during one of its weekend trainings held throughout the year.

“Anyone can volunteer, anyone can make a difference. Our volunteers are teachers and students, military personnel and farmers—you name it. They have different backgrounds, but they’re scientists at heart, and they care, they really care about Oklahoma and our environment,” said Cheryl Cheadle, OCC Blue Thumb coordinator and founder. “All we do is give them the tools to express that care in a way that maximizes the impact of their work.”

Blue Thumb’s next training event is scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11 in Tulsa. Learn more at www.bluethumbok.com.
Register to Attend the 2014 OACD Area Meetings, "Resilient Land, Resilient People"

Sept. 17, 2014 - The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) in partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will begin our 2014 tour of Oklahoma's five conservation areas next month.  

 

The theme of this year's Area Meetings is "Resilient Land, Resilient People." Sign up today to join us to learn more about the continued commitment of the Conservation Partnership, Soil Health Initiative and local conservation issues. In addition, each Area Meeting will feature a district business session, area employees meeting and a discussion of area partnership resource issues. 

 

More information including meeting announcements and registration information is now available online at  www.okconservation.org/area-meetings.
Gov. Fallin Announces Drought Grants Available for Projects Highlighting Responsible Use of Water

Sept. 11, 2014  – Governor Mary Fallin today announced the state of Oklahoma has $1.5 million available in drought grants for cities, counties, water districts and other public entities to help fund projects that highlight responsible use of water.

“Responsible use of water remains the most immediate and effective way to prevent future water shortages for many communities and water systems in Oklahoma,” said Fallin. “As the state enters its fourth year of ongoing drought, water efficiency and the reuse of water are becoming increasingly important to protect the water supplies that communities currently use.”

To receive funding from the Water for 2060 Drought Grant Program this fiscal year, the applicant and the project must both be eligible.  Eligible entities include counties, towns and municipalities, public works authorities and rural water/sewer districts.

Grants are capped at $500,000. The deadline for application is November 26, 2014.

Projects to be considered for a grant must demonstrate water efficiency and support drought resiliency within the community or water/wastewater system.  Water efficiency is defined as the use of improved technologies and practices to deliver equal or better services with less water. Water efficiency encompasses responsible water use and water reuse efforts, as well as water loss reduction and prevention to protect water resources for the future.

Eligible categories of water efficiency projects include:
  • Installing or retrofitting water efficient devices in public buildings, such as plumbing fixtures and appliances.
  • Installing any type of water meter in previously unmetered areas.
  • Leak detection and associated replacement of leaks within the distribution system.
  • Replacing existing broken/malfunctioning water meters, or upgrading existing meters, with automatic meter reading systems.
  • Retrofitting/adding automatic meter reading capabilities or leak detection equipment to existing meters.
  • Water audit and water conservation plans, which are reasonably expected to result in a capital project.
  • Recycling and water reuse projects that replace potable sources with non-potable sources, including gray water, condensate and wastewater effluent reuse systems (where local codes allow the practice) and extra treatment costs and distribution pipes associated with water reuse.
  • Retrofitting or replacing existing public landscape irrigation systems with more efficient landscape irrigation systems, including moisture and rain-sensing equipment.

With passage of the Water for 2060 Act in 2012, Oklahoma became the first state to establish a statewide goal of consuming no more fresh water in 2060 than is consumed today.  Appointees to the Water for 2060 Advisory Council are studying a wide range of innovative conservation measures, incentives, and related project financing options to solidify Oklahoma’s water future.

“Governor Fallin has shown unwavering leadership when it comes to stewardship of Oklahoma’s invaluable water resources,” said J. D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.  “From signing the Water for 2060 Act into law to helping us provide this opportunity to encourage more widespread adoption of water efficiency measures, it helps our water conservation campaign immensely to have the state’s chief executive onboard.”

For more information, visit the Oklahoma Water Resources Board website or contact Jerri Hargis, OWRB grants and operations manager at (405) 530-8800 or jerri.hargis@owrb.ok.gov.

Nominations Sought for Outstanding Conservation District, Director and Cooperator


Sept. 8, 2014 - Each year, with the help of our partners and sponsors, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts recognizes the "Best of the Best" in the conservation community. Nominations are currently being accepted for the following awards:

  • Outstanding Conservation District
  • Outstanding Conservation District Director
  • Outstanding Cooperator/Landowner


Five area recipients will be selected for each award based on their efforts to conserve and protect natural resources and their dedication to furthering the message of conservation in their communities. Area recipients will be recognized at their area meeting. From these finalists, one statewide recipient for each award will be selected. The statewide recipients will be recognized at an awards ceremony and receive a cash award during the March 23, 2015, Conservation Day at the Capitol. View last year's recipients here

Contest Rules
For complete contest rules including eligibility, nomination procedures and requirements, click here.  

Nomination Deadlines
Two weeks prior to your area meeting. View area meeting dates here.

How to Submit a Nomination
Nominations may be submitted online at the links below.

Outstanding Conservation District

Outstanding Conservation District Director
Outstanding Cooperator/Landowner


Questions?
Contact sarahblaney@okconservation.org.

Executive Director of Oklahoma Conservation Commission Retires

September 2, 2014 – Mike Thralls officially retired yesterday after 20 years of service to Oklahoma—17 as executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. He leaves behind an agency positioned to meet the conservation challenges of tomorrow thanks to his leadership and emphasis on partnerships between local, state and national entities. Such partnerships helped the agency achieve goals with limited financial resources.

 

“Mike Thralls’ leadership and tireless commitment to protecting natural resources has placed Oklahoma’s conservation partnership in a place of national prominence,” said Gary O’Neill, State Conservationist with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, which works closely with the Conservation Commission.

 

An embodiment of the locally-led, voluntary spirit of conservation in Oklahoma, Thralls uses the same practices encouraged by the Commission on his own farm and is an enthusiastic advocate of soil health. His vision led to the creation of the state’s first Conservation Cost-Share Program in 1998, which assists Oklahomans in installing conservation practices on their land to improve water quality and reduce soil erosion. In 2007, Thralls oversaw establishment of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which has improved or restored Oklahoma streams.

 

“Partnership is critical to accomplishing the great task of natural resource conservation,” said Kim Farber, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts President. “No one understands this better than Mike, and it’s why Oklahoma leads the nation in so many areas of conservation.”

 

Working closely with partners, Thralls has brought millions of federal dollars into the state to revive Oklahoma’s aging flood control dam system. In 2001 he received the National Watershed Coalition’s Meritorious Service Award, and this year was elected president of the National Association of State Conservation Agencies. He also received the President’s Award from Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts in 2014. He is a 1988 Leadership Oklahoma graduate and proud graduate of OSU.

 

At their Sept. 4 meeting, Commissioners named Lisa Knauf Owen, the agency's operations chief, as interim executive director. Owen has worked for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission since 1994, serving as education coordinator, wetlands coordinator, assistant director and director of district services. Applications for the position of executive director are being accepted through Sept. 25.

Nearly $30 Million Made Available for Flood Control in Oklahoma


PERRY, Okla., July 18, 2014 – Communities across Oklahoma will benefit from a $26 million investment to upgrade dams that provide critical infrastructure and protect public health and safety.


National, state and local officials gathered at Perry Lake to announce mostly 2014 Farm Bill funding for dam upgrades in a state that first partnered with USDA to build a watershed structure in the 1940s.


“This investment will protect people and ensure that these critical structures continue to provide benefits for future generations,” said Jason Weller, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief. “Homes, businesses and agriculture are depending on responsible management of the dams and overall watersheds, and NRCS, Oklahoma Conservation Commission and conservation districts are continuing to provide that support to these communities.”


More than 150 dams in 26 states will receive upgrade assistance for planning, design or construction—36 of which are in Oklahoma. The projects were identified based on potential risks to life and property if a dam failure were to occur. The number of these high-hazard dams in Oklahoma is on the rise due to residential development downstream of the structures. Only 30 of Oklahoma’s 2,107 watershed program dams were originally constructed as high-hazard. Today, 249 are classified as such.


“Upgrading and extending the life of these structures is vital to Oklahoma’s economy. When the benefits of flood control dams are compared to the costs of maintaining them, it’s clear this is a quality investment that benefits all Oklahomans,” said Mike Thralls, OCC executive director.


Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed Dam No. 62 in Noble County where the funding announcement was made is one such structure. In addition to the benefits of municipal water and recreation to the City of Perry, the dam provides flood protection to 541 people who live and work downstream. Additionally, the dam protects seven county roads, one state highway, two U.S. highways, and Interstate 35. Together, these roads support 16,200 vehicles daily.


"Perry Lake (Upper Black Bear Watershed Dam No. 62) is a great example of the many benefits the watershed lakes are providing to rural and urban areas in the state," said Kim Farber, Oklahoma Association of Conservation District (OACD) President. "The Watershed Rehabilitation Program is about local people working together to maintain and improve a valuable natural resource. OACD commends Noble County Conservation District, the City of Perry, the Black Bear Conservancy District, Natural Resources Conservation Services and landowners in making the rehabilitation of this dam a reality. On behalf of the conservation districts in Oklahoma, I want to thank Congressman Frank Lucas for his leadership in authoring legislation that funds the infrastructure and maintenance of Oklahoma's 2,107 dams to ensure their safety and protect both life and property."


Oklahoma’s conservation partners operate and maintain 2,107 watershed flood control dams across the state, representing a $2 billion public infrastructure that provides $82 million in annual benefits in the form of flood control, municipal water supply, recreation, wildlife habitat, and wildfire suppression.
For more information, visit the NRCS Watershed Rehabilitation webpage or contact your local conservation district.

Ag Producers Learn About Benefits of Cover Crops at Dewey County Field Day

Dewey County, Okla. - On July 8, more than 80 agriculture producers from across the state gathered in Dewey County to learn about the benefits of integrating conservation practices such as cover crops into their farming operations at a field day hosted by the Dewey County Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Dewey County producer and Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) board member Jimmy Emmons led attendees on a tour of five fields planted in different cover crops and discussed his experience with conservation practices.

"I've been using cover crops for three years and have been an NRCS demonstration farm for two," says Emmons. "By participating in the soil health project, I feel like I'm helping to restore the land my grandpa bought in 1926."

Cover crops are grasses, legumes or small grains grown between regular grain crop production periods for the purpose of protecting and improving the soil. In addition to preventing soil erosion due to wind and water, cover crops can provide a variety of other benefits when implemented into farming and ranching operations including adding organic matter and nutrients into the soil, providing weed control, improving soil structure and increasing water capacity.  

Emmons produces wheat, canola and alfalfa as well as raising livestock. His cropland management strategy includes no-till and conservation tillage, as well as cover crops to help improve the health of his soils. He says that implementing these conservation practices has helped him to protect the soil from wind erosion and extreme heat, which helps to slow down water evaporation.

"Cover crops have really helped to protect the soil throughout the drought we've experienced the past few years in western Oklahoma," Emmons says.

NRCS State Soil Scientist Steve Alspach and State Conservationist Gary O'Neill were also on hand to provide attendees with information about working with their local NRCS service center to determine their specific needs and help select the ideal cover crop that addresses those needs.

"I appreciate the commitment from Oklahoma farmers and ranchers like Jimmy Emmons who are trying to incorporate cover crops into their farming operations," O'Neill says. "These efforts are showing the potential benefits from cover crops and soil health systems, which can include positive impacts on producers' yields and input costs and provide environmental benefits such as improved water quality and increased water quantity."

The NRCS provides technical expertise and assistance to help producers implement conservation practices into their operation. For more information about NRCS programs and services, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov or your local USDA Service Center.

Deadline to apply for USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program is July 14


Agriculture producer groups, local governments and other community organizations interested in partnering with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to leverage federal resources to support area conservation projects may submit a partnership proposal to participate in the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) by July 14.

 

Authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP encourages partners to join in efforts with producers to increase the restoration and sustainable use of soil, water, wildlife and related natural resources. The new program will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, nonprofit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.

 

With participating partners investing along with $1.2 billion in funding from the USDA, the department hopes to leverage an additional $1.2 billion for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation over the life of the five-year program.

 

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation and other industries.”

 

The RCPP has three funding pools:

  1. 35 percent of total program funding directed to critical conservation areas, chosen by the agriculture secretary.
  2. 40 percent directed to regional or multi-state projects through a national competitive process.
  3. 25 percent directed to state-level projects through a competitive process established by NRCS state leaders.

 

The critical conservation areas announced by Secretary Vilsack are the Great Lakes Region, Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Mississippi River Basin, Longleaf Pine Range, Columbia River Basin, California Bay Delta, Prairie Grasslands and the Colorado River Basin. The Prairie Grasslands Region includes most of Oklahoma except the far eastern part of the state.

 

Eligible partners interested in applying can find more information here. Pre-proposals are due July 14, and full proposals are due September 26. Producers may apply for RCPP assistance by contacting their local NRCS office.

July 8 Field Day to Demonstrate Value of Cover Crops in Improving Soil Health

When:  Tuesday, July 8, 2014, 10 a.m.

Where:  Meet at Rhea Baptist Church
County Road 211 / Highway 47 in Dewey County


RSVP:  By July 1, 2014 to 580/328-5366 or deweyccd@conservation.ok.gov.


What:  Dewey County Conservation District together with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will host a Cover Crop Field Day to learn about the benefits to soil health from integrating cover crops into farming practices.


Cover crops are grasses, legumes or small grains grown between regular grain crop production periods for the purpose of protecting and improving the soil. In addition to preventing soil erosion due to wind and water, cover crops can provide a variety of other benefits when implemented into farming and ranching operations including adding organic matter and nutrients into the soil, providing weed control, improving soil structure and increasing water capacity. 
 
Healthy soil is essential to meet the increasing food production needs of the world's growing population. By implementing conservation practices such as cover crops, agriculture producers are helping to ensure our soils are sustainable for future generations. Find more information on cover crops and soil health at www.nrcs.usda.gov.


Tentative Agenda:

10 a.m. - Depart Rhea Baptist Church

Tour of five cropland fields with different cover crop plantings.

Lunch at the farm of Jimmy Emmons, Dewey County Conservation District Board Member

Benefits and Challenges of Cover Crops
Jimmy Emmons, Producer

Soil Health
Gary O'Neill, NRCS State Conservationist, Oklahoma

Grid Sampling Variable Rates
Jimmy Evans, Western Equipment, LLC

Rainfall Simulator Demonstration
Steve Alspach, NRCS State Soil Scientist, Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) is pleased to partner on this event through our Soil Health Project. Sponsored by the Kirkpatrick Foundation, the OACD Soil Health Project is a statewide initiative to engage agriculture producers and citizens in improving the health and function of our soil.

Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), Access Midstream Partners, to collaborate on protection of Lesser Prairie Chicken through wildlife incentives

May 27, 2014 - As part of their ongoing efforts to protect soil, water, air and wildlife habitats, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) today announced their partnership with Access Midstream to help protect the habitat of the Lesser Prairie Chicken (LPC) through landowner incentives tied to habitat improvement.

“We are excited to have Access Midstream as our partner in helping landowners address the challenges created by the loss of Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat,” said Kim Farber, President of OACD. “Even though this species has been listed as threatened instead of endangered, we still need to do what we can to take it completely off the list. By providing incentives to help farmers and ranchers improve the habitat of this species hopefully we can help in this effort.”

Under the proposed collaboration, Access Midstream will donate funds to OACD who will work with landowners to preserve Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat in western Oklahoma. The goal of the partnership is to mitigate habitat loss and aid in the recovery of the species.

“Access Midstream is pleased to partner with OACD to improve the Lesser Prairie Chicken habitat in Oklahoma,” said Jimmie Hammontree, manager of regulatory affairs at Access.  “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with groups that share our vision of environmental responsibility and preservation.”

According to Clay Pope, Executive Director of OACD, this partnership will help not only with the protection of the species, but will also help improve the bottom line of participating agriculture producers.

“It costs money to undertake much of the habitat work necessary to improve the habitat of the Lesser Prairie Chicken, so any help we can give farmers and ranchers willing to do this work is money well spent,” Pope said. “If we can improve the habitat and possibly help delist this species someday, we should continue doing these types of projects.  We also need to recognize the work that agriculture producers are doing and have done to protect this species through their management of the land.  We are excited to have Access Midstream as a partner in this effort and we look forward to helping get this work done on the ground.”


Nine More Oklahoma Streams Show Significant Water Quality Improvement


May 19, 2014 – Voluntary conservation practices place Oklahoma among the water quality elite for another year. Farmers, ranchers and other landowners have helped nine more streams to be removed from Oklahoma’s 303(d) list of impaired streams. These streams are candidates to join 37 other EPA-recognized water quality success stories, for which Oklahoma ranks second in the nation.

The nine streams located in Bryan, Choctaw, Coal, Garfield, Grant, Kay, Logan, McIntosh, Osage, and Pontotoc counties have been removed from the impaired streams list for marked reductions in turbidity, the amount of sediment suspended in water.

“Water quality monitoring data for these EPA success story candidates shows improvements which attributed to voluntary conservation practices. We have the strong partnership between agriculture producers, local conservation districts, Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to thank for that,” said Shanon Phillips, OCC Water Quality Division director.

Because drought naturally reduces turbidity, these streams were unlisted using pre-drought data from 2004-2009. Data from subsequent years continues to support improvements as a result of conservation practices such as fencing-off stream banks from livestock and not tilling fields in order to reduce chemical and soil runoff into streams.

Maintaining these practices is particularly important in times of drought because less frequent rainfall can negatively impact water quality. Existing pollutants in the water become more concentrated as water levels decrease. This can harm organisms living in the water and require additional chemicals to treat drinking water. Along banks, dry, sparser vegetation filters water runoff less effectively, while less frequent rain leads to higher concentrations of pollutants such as motor oil and fertilizers to accumulate on the ground. When rain finally does wash pollutants into streams, the higher concentrations can overwhelm ecosystems.

“In much the same way voluntary conservation practices being used by farmers and ranchers have so far prevented Oklahoma from slipping back into another Dust Bowl during this drought, it’s our hope that these best management practices will prevent water quality problems when the rains finally come,” said Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts.

OCC monitors approximately 450 streams statewide on a five year rotation. Monitoring data is used to determine water quality and identify how conservation practices are affecting streams, as well as how and where conservation efforts should be focused in the future.

Oklahoma Conservation Districts, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum to partner on natural resource education efforts

May 15, 2014 - As part of their ongoing work to protect the soil, water, air and wildlife habitats of Oklahoma and to educate citizens on the important role natural resources have played and continue to play in the development of the western United States, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum are announcing a new partnership on natural resource education.

“We are so proud to be a partner with the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in this effort,” said Kim Farber, President of OACD. “It doesn’t matter if you are talking about farming, ranching, mining, oil and gas, the timber industry, tourism or the fishing industry, the western United States was shaped and continues to be shaped by the regions natural resources. Like the rest of the west, Oklahoma faces several natural resource challenges as we move into the future.  It’s so important that we educate the general public on the importance of the proper management and conservation of our natural resources. We are excited to have the museum as our partner in this task.”

“The museum is pleased to be partnering with the conservation districts of Oklahoma in this new collaborative effort,” said Gretchen Jeane, Director of Education at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. “The past, present and future of western resources is intertwined with the heritage of ranching in the American west and the iconic cowboy.  Land and pasture management, water usage, conservation measures and livestock management are all essential discussions as we work together to build upon our past to ensure a western lifestyle for the next generation.”

The newly announced collaboration is designed to build on the successful education forum ‘Surviving the Elements; Land and Water Issues of the West,’ that was held at the museum in March.   The partnership also draws on the ongoing education efforts of OACD and its member districts including the work done by the association in conjunction with the Ken Burns documentary, ‘The Dust Bowl.’

According to Farber, while full details of upcoming programs are yet to be finalized, the partnership holds great promise in expanding the knowledge base of Oklahomans on the importance of our state’s natural resources.

“We are just getting started on this partnership but we are excited about the possibilities,” Farber said. “The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is a world class facility that is second to none in telling the history of the western United States and our conservation efforts in Oklahoma are also second to none.  By joining forces we can make a real difference in helping all Oklahomans understand the important role natural resources have played in our past and the critical role they will have in shaping our future.  We are looking forward to working with the museum in this exciting work.”

Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts awarded Kirkpatrick Foundation grant for soil health initiative

May 8, 2014 - As part of their continuing commitment to Oklahoma and the health of its environment, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) today announced an initiative to help educate all Oklahomans on the benefits of soil health. The initiative is supported in part by a grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation.

“Improved soil health is something everyone should be interested in, not just those of us in production agriculture,” Kim Farber, President of OACD said.  “Whether you are talking about increasing yields to feed a growing planet, protecting the quality of our water, addressing climate change, improving wildlife habitats, insuring that we have adequate water for human consumption and production agriculture into the future or helping to improve the bottom line of farmers and ranchers, soil health can help address all of these issues.  We are extremely honored to have received funding from the Kirkpatrick Foundation in our effort to spread the word about the benefits of soil health and we are excited to be able to get this effort off the ground.”

“The Foundation is pleased to approve a grant to OACD to help their work in soil health and conservation, which will be of significance to the entire state,” said Louisa McCune-Elmore, Kirkpatrick Foundation Executive Director.  The Foundation has supported Oklahoma non-profits since its inception in 1955, giving grants in the areas of arts, culture, education, animal well-being, environmental conservation and historical preservation.

According to Farber, the grant from the Kirkpatrick Foundation will help OACD increase the overall health of ecosystems of the state and help improve agriculture productivity in Oklahoma by engaging a greater number of farmers and ranchers in best management practices that increase soil organic matter, sequester carbon, reduce non-point source pollution and reduce soil erosion.  The grant will also help better inform non-agriculture producers of the role soil health can play in protecting the environment and build a bridge between the environmental community and production agriculture that can lead not only to a healthier environment but also to a more profitable and productive agriculture sector.

“Oklahoma has for several years now been a leader in reducing non-point source pollution in our surface water and in controlling soil erosion,” Farber said.  “We also have over 50,000 acres signed up in a program that pays farmers and ranchers for sequestering carbon in the soil through different farming practices.  The exciting thing about all this is that the same farming practices that we are encouraging producers to put on the land to address environmental concerns are the same practices we want them to undertake to increase organic matter in their soil and improve soil health. 


"According to the latest research, for every 1 percent of increased organic matter in the soil, you triple the soils water holding capacity.  This means you can hold on to more moisture when it does rain and help your farm better weather droughts like the one we are experiencing now.  That same 1 percent increase in organic matter also can potentially free up an additional $700 worth of nutrients per acre for growing crops.  That’s free fertilizer that can help increase productivity and help producer’s bottom lines.  These same practices also reduce the amount of diesel you use to grow crops and can help improve wildlife habitat. So often times the environmental community and agriculture seem to be a loggerheads.  Soil health, however, is the one place where we can come together and make a difference, both for the environment and for producer’s bottom lines. We want to thank the Kirkpatrick Foundation for providing this grant to help us tell this story.”