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Remember the Importance of Soil Health this Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22. What better time to remember and share the importance of soil health? Below are five reasons from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service why the health of our soil is vital to everyone.

5. A lot of people are coming to dinner. We all rely on the soil for our food and fiber. By the year 2050, an estimated 9 billion people will join us at Earth’s dinner table, meaning we’ll have to grow as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the past 500.

The Soil Health Solution: Improving soil health increases the productivity and function of our soil (including nutrient uptake to plants), which offers increased food security in a growing world.

4. There are fewer acres of land to grow the food we need. Globally, millions of acres of cropland are lost to development or resource degradation.

The Soil Health Solution: Improving soil health naturally can protect our working lands from erosion and desertification and ensure that our food-producing acres stay fertile and productive.

3. Weather extremes like drought and climate change pose increasing food production challenges.

The Soil Health Solution: Healthy soil is more resilient soil, with greater infiltration and water-holding capacity, which make farms more resistant to periods of drought. And since it holds more water, healthy soil helps reduce flooding during periods of intense rainfall.

2. There is growing competition for water and other food production resources — and many resources are limited (or in some cases finite) in their supply.

The Soil Health Solution: Healthy soils help optimize those inputs and maximize nutrient use efficiency. In addition, healthy soil keeps production inputs like fertilizers and pesticides on the land and out of our streams, lakes and oceans.

1. We can repair and rebuild it. For years, it was believed that a certain amount of cropland soil erosion was inevitable.

The Soil Health Solution: By using conservation techniques like cover crops, no-till and diverse crop rotations, an increasing number of farmers are proving that we can actually build our soils — and, in some instances, increase soil organic matter by as much as 3-4 percent. In the process, farmers are actually using less energy, maintaining or increasing production and improving their bottom lines.

Read more on the USDA blog here.

Ag Producers Weathering Drought Aided by Local Conservation Districts, Emergency Drought Cost-Share Program

April 15, 2014 – Hurting for water, farmers and ranchers of five Oklahoma counties have tapped emergency funds meant to bring water to crops and grazing land and conserve what water is already there.

Conservation districts in Greer, Harmon, Jackson, Texas, and Tillman counties have partnered with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to support local producers in combating the effects of      A solar powered water pump drought on agricultural operations. Three rounds of Emergency            installed by a Greer County rancher Drought Cost-Share Program allocations were made totaling                  using cost-share funds.
 $375,000.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                           
On a patch of land managed by Greer County farmer and rancher Scotty Webb, water is again flowing where cattle haven’t grazed since 2012. “The place we ended up doing this [installing a solar water pump], is 360 acres with no water anywhere. Two ponds went dry,” Webb said.
 
That’s a familiar story among agricultural producers in the Oklahoma counties considered by the U.S. Drought Monitor to be in extreme to exceptional drought—the most severe drought categories. Due to lack of water, many have reduced or completely eliminated cattle herds and crops.

If not for the solar water pump Webb installed using emergency drought funds, that pasture would be unable to support livestock. This means Webb’s cattle would stay on their current pasture, risking overgrazing and further harm to the drought damaged land. Other practices made possible by the cost-share funds include pasture establishment, water well drilling, pipelines, and taps to rural water utilities.

“I’ve been fortunate to hold on to what I have,” Webb said. “There are lots of people who have sold out.”

In order to hold on, Webb reduced the size of his herd, but he also adopted conservation practices encouraged by his conservation district such as rotational grazing and no-till farming. Rotational grazing is the practice of moving livestock from one partitioned pasture area to another in order to maximize a pasture’s ability to adequately feed livestock while maintaining healthy plant growth for future grazing. By contrast, continuous grazing allows livestock to freely graze anywhere and can lead to under and overgrazed land. No-till farming is farming without tilling or turning up the soil, and leaving it covered with residue and plant cover. Contrary to conventional wisdom, tilled soil is less able to take in water and nutrients and, due to loss of root systems and living organisms such as fungi and worms in the soil, tilled soil is less able to make what nutrients it does contain available to crops.

Despite 2012 drought conditions worse than those seen during the 1930s Dust Bowl, Oklahoma farmers and ranchers have been able to prevent the devastating dust storms and widespread erosion seen during that time by working with local, state, and federal conservation partners to implement voluntary conservation practices that protect soil, air and water quality and benefit local economies.

Governor Mary Fallin activated the Emergency Drought Commission in November 2013. The Drought Commission is comprised of Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese, Oklahoma Conservation Commission executive director, Mike Thralls, and Oklahoma Water Resources Board executive director J.D. Strong.

The Drought Commission designated the Conservation Commission as the lead state agency to disburse drought relief funds to individual farmers and ranchers via the Emergency Drought Cost-Share Program. With the assistance of USDA NRCS, conservation districts in the five counties under drought emergency used the program to distribute funds based on a ranked application system.

In cost-share programs such as the Emergency Drought Cost-Share Program and the Conservation Commission’s Locally-Led Cost-Share Program, conservation districts may pay up to 75 percent of the cost of implementing a conservation practice. The producer pays the remaining portion.

 
Chesapeake Energy Corporation, Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts to Celebrate Stewardship Week in Oklahoma
 
April, 2014-As part of their continued commitment to Oklahoma and the health of its environment, Chesapeake Energy Corporation and the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) announced today they will partner in celebrating Stewardship Week in Oklahoma, April 27 through May 4, 2014.

“We are honored that Chesapeake Energy is partnering with us to recognize the hard work of agriculture producers and other landowners in conserving our soil, water, air, wildlife habitats and other natural resources,” Kim Farber, president of OACD said.  “We are deeply appreciative of Chesapeake’s continued support of our state’s farmers, ranchers and other landowners and all they do to protect the environment.   It’s also important that we educate all Oklahomans on the importance of the stewardship ethic and the need to care for our environment.  We are glad to have Chesapeake working with us to do this.”

Stewardship Week is one of the world's largest conservation-related observances. Since 1955, the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and OACD have sponsored the national Stewardship Week program.  During the week, local conservation districts work with media outlets, communities, faith-based groups and local schools to promote the concept of stewardship.  The concept involves personal and social responsibility, including a duty to learn about and improve natural resources so we use them wisely and leave a rich legacy for future generations.

“It is a privilege to continue our association with the OACD and its statewide conservation programs through Stewardship Week,” said Teresa Rose, director of community relations for Chesapeake Energy. “The values and effort put forth by OACD are parallel to those at Chesapeake, and the Stewardship Week program allows both OACD and Chesapeake to maximize our joint message to protect our land, water, air and habitat through responsible conservation efforts. Partnering with OACD is a natural fit for Chesapeake, and we look forward to continuing our relationship in the future.”

“This is a great partnership, Chesapeake Energy and OACD,” Clay Pope, executive director of OACD said.  “By working together we can help ensure that all Oklahomans, both rural and urban, know the importance of protecting and conserving our natural resources.  Farmers and ranchers were the first environmentalists and are the primary stewards of our natural resources, but we must stay vigilant and address the problems of today while avoiding the mistakes of the past.  Agriculture producers work hard to conserve our soil, water, air and wildlife habitats, but we still have more to do.  We appreciate the help of Chesapeake in promoting Stewardship Week statewide.”


Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb Records Public Service Announcements for 2014 Stewardship Week, April 27-May 4

 

In honor of Stewardship Week, which is annually celebrated from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in May, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb has recorded three public service announcements to help promote the event through local radio stations.

 

Initiated in 1955 by the National Association of Conservation Districts, Stewardship Week provides a time to recognize the efforts of farmers and ranchers to protect and conservation the state’s natural resources, working with local conservation districts under the support of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and in cooperation with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The 2014 Stewardship Week is themed, “Dig Deeper:  Mysteries in the soil.”

 

“Soil is an essential natural resource that all of us depend on each and every day,“ says NACD President Earl Garber.  “The Dust Bowl of the 1930s showed our nation the importance of conservation practices. Farmers and ranchers who have experienced recent droughts know that conservation practices are critical in helping their soil endure, even in the most challenging weather events. Your local conservation districts are working with local landowners to assist in a variety of projects and outreach to improve soil health both now and in the long term.”

 

During the week local conservation districts will work with newspapers, radio stations, communities, faith-based groups and local schools to promote the concept of Stewardship. This concept involves personal and social responsibility, including a duty to learn about and improve natural resources as we use them wisely, leaving a rich legacy for future generations.

 

For more information about Stewardship Week, contact Clay Pope, OACD Executive Director, at 405/699-2087 or claypope@pldi.net.

 

Listen to the three public service announcements below.

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National Land and Range Judging Contest to be held April 29-May 1, Contest Sponsorships Available

The National Land and Range Judging Contest will once again bring more than 1,000 youth contestants and sponsors from throughout the United States to Oklahoma City to compete in a three-day event that stresses soil and plant science, land management and conservation April 29 through May 1.

Contestants qualify for the national event by placing among the top five teams at contests in their home states.  The students match their abilities in judging the adaptability of the land for various purposes including farming, range management and home development.  The contest helps students develop skills that can be applied in careers including environmental and agricultural management, natural resource conservation, homebuilding and construction. 

Interested in being a contest sponsor? Sponsorships are available starting at the $100 level. For more information, contact Becky Inmon at the Oklahoma County Conservation District, OklahomaCCD@conservation.ok.gov.

Oklahoma Emergency Drought Commission making a difference; Cost-share funds helping farmers and ranchers cope with ongoing crisis

April 7, 2014, Oklahoma City— Farmers and ranchers in five Oklahoma counties are putting practices on the ground to help provide water for livestock and repair pastures damaged by the ongoing drought thanks to cost share dollars provided through the Oklahoma Emergency Drought Cost Share Program according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).
 
“We’re glad these dollars are out in the hands of agriculture producers and that they’re able to get them on the ground to address this crisis,” Farber said. “The drought is slowly tightening its grip across Oklahoma, but parts of Southwest Oklahoma and the Panhandle never escaped the grasp that it held on all of us a year ago.  We just hope that the dollars producers are using now can help alleviate some of the damage that has taken place.”
 
Created by the Legislature in the spring of 2013, the Oklahoma Emergency Drought Relief Fund provides funding for drought relief in the form of cost-share dollars for farmers, ranchers, and other landowners and grants and loans to communities, rural water districts, and fire departments.

The fund is administered by the Emergency Drought Commission consisting of the Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, and the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. These individuals are charged with making recommendations to the Governor for expenditures from the Emergency Drought Relief Fund and to serve as a drought advisory panel for the Governor and the various state agencies while the drought emergency exists.

In October 2013, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared a drought emergency and called for action to address the crisis caused by dry conditions in Jackson, Tillman, Greer, and Harmon Counties in Southwest Oklahoma and Texas County in the Oklahoma Panhandle.   At that time, a total of $3 million was available in the fund, $375,000 of which was earmarked to help agriculture in the stricken area through the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s Emergency Drought Cost-Share Program. These funds were then sent out to local conservation districts based on their determination of the best use for them in their local areas.

“Local people know far better what they need locally then we do at the State level,” Thralls said. “That’s why we asked the conservation districts in these drought stricken areas to set the priorities for these dollars and to work with local producers to get the resources on the ground.  It’s a locally-led process that insures the specific needs of the area are addressed.”
 
According to Thralls, each local conservation district in the declared area first requested funds from the Emergency Drought Commission based upon the limits of the use of the fund and needs of their area, with the districts setting as their priorities the funding of the establishment of emergency water systems for livestock, the funding for repairing pastures and range areas damaged by the drought and funding for the protection of high livestock traffic areas around existing water systems.

Once funding for the proposed projects and funding levels for each district were approved, the individual districts advertised in their area the availability of the assistance and opened application to area producers for the available dollars.

Final spending levels for each district were Geer County, $124,877.74; Jackson County, $60,000; Harmon County, $104,621.26; Tillman County, $38,000; and Texas County, $47,500.

While not a huge amount of money, Farber said this assistance has been well received by producers and is definitely needed.

"The funding levels available under this program may not be enough to address all of the needs created by the drought but any help is greatly appreciated,” Farber said. “We can't say enough how much we appreciate the Legislature and the Governor making this assistance available.  We are glad we could get these dollars out the door and we can only hope that the drought breaks so that further assistance won’t be needed."

North Canadian River Watershed Traveling Educator Workshop to be held June 10-12


The Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Blue Thumb and Oklahoma Project WET will conduct a three-day summer workshop exploring the North Canadian River Watershed. The goal of the workshop is to give participants a sense of stewardship and personal ownership in the watershed by creating a greater awareness of how individual actions and choices impact the overall water quality and quantity of the North Canadian River. This workshop is designed to provide educators with the skills, materials and confidence to incorporate watershed stewardship into their classroom. 


The workshop will include:

  • Road trip via charter bus from El Reno, OK to Beaver, OK and back (over 500 miles round trip)
  • One day exploring the watershed from Beaver to Woodward
  • One day exploring the watershed from Woodward to Watonga
  • One day exploring the watershed from Watonga to Oklahoma City


The workshop is open to pre-K through 12th grade classroom teachers or environmental educators from public or private schools or other organizations in Oklahoma. Enrollment is limited to 24 participants and educators within the North Canadian Watershed will be given preference. Registrants must be able to attend all three days of the workshop. Registration fee is $100. For more information, click here or contact Karla Beatty at 405/521-6788 or karla.beatty@conservation.ok.gov.

OACD Executive Director, Farmer Clay Pope Speaks with BBC News on Effects of Drought, Severe Climate on Oklahoma Farmers


Following a recently released UN report on climate change warning that worldwide food production will be impacted, BBC News interviewed three farmers from around the world, including our very own Clay Pope, to describe the impact of severe climate on their land. Read more and listen the the interview here.

Awards Presented During Conservation Day at the Capitol

March 24, 2014-The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) sponsored “Conservation Day at the Capitol” on March 24, 2014. The Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) cosponsored the event. Several of the state's local conservation districts displayed exhibits at the events along with partner agencies and other organizations.

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

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb welcomed conservation districts at an awards ceremony held in the State Senate Chamber and said “This state would be very different if not for the work you do every day.” He pledged continuing support for the conservation of Oklahoma’s natural resources and quoted President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous line, “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”

OACD president Kim Farber emceed the awards ceremony. Jim Reese, Oklahoma Sec. of Agriculture, Gary O’Neill, USDA-NRCS State Conservationist, Jim Grego, Chairman of the OK Conservation Commission, and representatives of sponsoring organizations presented awards.

Morgan Brothers Farm of Craig County received the Outstanding District Landowner/Cooperator Award, sponsored by the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma. He was nominated by the Craig County Conservation District. Hal Clark of Cimarron County, on the board of directors of the Cimarron County Conservation District, received the Outstanding District Director Award, sponsored by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation. Nowata County Conservation District received the Outstanding District Award, sponsored by Chesapeake Energy.

Christina Richards, President of Oklahoma Association of Conservation District Employees, presented Jo Callison, district manager of Craig County Conservation District, with the Employee of the Year Award. Ben Pollard, retired OCC assistant director, was honored with the OACDE President’s Award.

Robert Toole, OCC assistant director, emceed as Mark Thomas, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association, joined Sec. Reese and Commissioner Grego in presenting Excellence in Communication awards. Kay County Conservation District received First Place Excellence in Communication. Deer Creek Conservation District received Second Place Excellence in Communication. Caney Valley Conservation District received Excellence in Innovative Communication. Donna Buckner, advertising executive of The Express Star, was recognized for Outstanding Support of Conservation by an OPA Member Newspaper. She was nominated by Grady County Conservation District. Tom Muchmore, publisher of the Ponca City News was recognized for Outstanding Continuing Support of Coverage of Conservation. He was nominated by Kay County Conservation District.

Tom Lucas, NRCS public affairs officer, emceed as State Conservationist Gary O’Neill presented awards to  NRCS Conservation Partners. Ron Hays, director of Farm Programming for the Oklahoma Farm Report and Mike McCormick, executive editor of the Shawnee News-Star were honored as media partners. Frank Acker, district manager of Little River Conservation District was presented with a Special Achievement  award. Garfield County Conservation District also received a Special Achievement award. David Milam,  district technician for Atoka County Conservation District, Iris Imler, programs coordinator for Cimarron County Conservation District, and Judy Johnson, district secretary for Grant County Conservation District were presented with Standing in the Gap awards for bridging the gap between local, state, and federal  conservation services. Jimmy Emmons, district director of Dewey County Conservation District was  named Conservationist of the Year.

Click here to download photos from 2014 Conservation Day at the Capitol.

Oklahoma ranked number two among all states in controlling harmful nutrients in waterways according to EPA database; Fifth consecutive year for state to be in the top ten

Oklahoma City— A recent comparison of EPA priority nonpoint source pollutant reduction numbers from across the nation shows that Oklahoma ranks as the number two state in the nation for when it comes to reducing harmful nutrients from our streams and rivers. This is the fifth year in a row that Oklahoma has ranked in the top ten among states in reported non-point source nutrient reductions according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).

“This continued improvement in water quality is a testimony to the success of the dedicated, voluntary work done by farmers, ranchers and other landowners in partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, local conservation districts, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Water Act 319 programs and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to address this critical issue,” Farber said. “This success shows what can happen when we work together, respect individuals’ private property rights and when the State and Federal Governments give landowners the financial and technical assistance they need to make changes. Locally-led, voluntary conservation works.”

Water quality numbers recently reported by States to the EPA show that in 2013, Oklahoma’s Nonpoint Source Program led the nation in phosphorus reduction for the third year in a row with more than 1,036,393 pounds of estimated phosphorus load reduced due to voluntary best management practices across the state. The number reflects over 30% of the overall reported reductions of phosphorus in surface water in the entire United States.

In addition, Oklahoma ranked second among the states in reported nitrogen load reduction to streams—an estimated 1,420,749 pounds of nitrogen last year. Oklahoma also had an estimated sediment reduction of over 9,732 tons to streams. When these numbers are reviewed in EPA’s Grants Reporting and Tracking System (GRTS) database, comparison with the levels of nonpoint source pollution reduced by other states shows that Oklahoma ranks number two overall in the reduction of nutrients that pollute our water. This is the fifth year in a row where Oklahoma has ranked in the top ten among states in reported reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus loads, while receiving less than two percent of EPA 319 program funds.

According to Clay Pope, Executive Director of OACD, this reduction shows the success of locally-led conservation efforts in addressing non-point source pollution and helps highlight why locally-led incentive based programs are critical to ongoing efforts designed to address water quality both at the state and federal level.

“By using the delivery system consisting of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, local conservation districts and NRCS, we have been able to use EPA 319 Federal Clean Water Act dollars and Farm Bill Conservation Title funds along with state dollars to partner with landowners in ways that are starting to turn the corner on some of Oklahoma’s toughest water quality problems,” Pope said. “We’re not only controlling pollution, but we are also taking into consideration the financial situation of the local landowner. Clearly we have a great model and all Oklahomans should be proud of this work. We have more to do, but we are moving in the right direction in Oklahoma when it comes to water quality. This is the same kind of approach we used to tame the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, and it shows what can be done when landowners and the government work cooperatively together to solve these kinds of problems.”


Conservation Day at the Capitol Scheduled for Monday, March 24


Conservation leaders will gather March 24, 2014 for Conservation Day at the Capitol. An awards ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Chamber of the Oklahoma State Senate.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb is scheduled to speak and Secretary of Agriculture, Jim Reese, will be in attendance.


The OACD Conservation Awards will be presented in the categories of Outstanding Conservation District, Outstanding District Director and Outstanding Cooperator/Landowner. The awards are sponsored by the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and are cosponsored by Chesapeake Energy, the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma, respectively.


At 11:30 a.m. a news conference will be held in room 432 B to announce that Oklahoma is again among the top states in addressing water quality. Secretary of Energy and Environment, Michael Teague, Secretary of Agriculture, Jim Reese, State Senator Ron Justice and State Representative Don Armes have been invited to speak.


At 2 p.m. we will be conducting a demonstration of our rainfall simulator in the fourth floor rotunda to demonstrate the benefits of good conservation practices to both production agriculture and the environment.


Throughout the day, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., display booths will be exhibited in the Capitol Rotunda on the fourth floor. Exhibitors will include a number of the state's local conservation districts along with state and federal conservation agencies and related nonprofit organizations and companies.

Oklahoma Panhandle Conservation Districts, NRCS, Panhandle State University, and  No-Man’s Land Historical Society partnering to improve native character of museum’s landscape

Oklahoma City—The historical ecosystem of the Oklahoma Panhandle will be better reflected in the landscaping of the No Man’s Land Museum at Goodwell thanks to a partnership between the Cimarron County Conservation District, the Texas County Conservation District, the Beaver County Conservation District, Oklahoma Panhandle State University (OPSU), the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the No Man’s Land Historical Society.  According to Cimarron County Conservation District Chairman Hal Clark, this project is designed to help educate future generations on the unique characteristics of the Panhandle regions ecology.

“This region is like no other place on Earth,” Clark said. “The grasslands of the Panhandle region once extended like a great ocean of vegetation as far as the eye could see.  Whether it was referred to as ’el Llano Estacado,’ the Great American Desert,’ or ‘No Man’s land,’ this area and its native plant system was unique.  It’s our hope that through this partnership, we can give visitors to this facility at least an idea of what kind of plants dominated the landscape prior to plow-up.”

Through the planning and planting of native grasses and through additional technical assistance related to the area surrounding the museum at Goodwell, the three Oklahoma Panhandle Conservation Districts and NRCS are working in conjunction with the No Man’s Land Historical Society and OPSU to provide a type of living history in the form of landscaping on the facility grounds.  By incorporating native plant species into the area surrounding the museum, they hope to not only add to the aesthetic quality of the facility, but also provide a new teaching tool to help visitors better understand the ecosystem that is native to the region.

“We can’t restore the prairie to its native state,” said Neil Hyer, Chairman of the Texas County Conservation District. “Our hope, however, is that by seeing the types of grass that once dominated this area, folks can better appreciate what this was like when the first settlers came here.  That not only will help them understand what the native condition of the range was at that time, it will also help put in better context the idea of the changes that took place on the land that allowed the dust bowl of the 1930’s to happen.”  

Dr. Serafin Ramon, a retired professor from Oklahoma Panhandle State University and a board member of the No Man’s Land Historical Society also expressed support for this effort saying “We are very appreciative of this partnership and the ability it will give us to help educate visitors to our museum about the native ecosystem. This work will help enhance the mission of our museum and better tell the story of the natural history of our region.  We are very appreciative of this effort.”

According to Dr. David Bryant, President of OPSU, this work to educate future generations about the natural history of the Panhandle Region goes to the heart of the mission of Panhandle State.

“The mission of our school is to provide higher education primarily for people of the Oklahoma Panhandle and surrounding areas through academic programs, cultural enrichment, lifelong learning experiences, and public service activities.  This work at the museum touches all of those areas,” Bryant said. “By providing a new teaching tool that helps shed light on the economic, cultural and natural history of our region we are helping to educate all of our areas residents, both young and old, of the role our natural ecosystem has played and continues to play in the development of this region.  This is a great partnership that helps tell a story that we need to all hear.”

Beaver County Conservation District Chairman Thomas Heglin agreed.

“When you leave the ground exposed to the wind in this country, it’s going to blow,” Heglin said.  “Nature provided cover in the form of grasses that not only covered the top of the soil, but had root systems that helped hold the land together and better hold moisture.  We learned the hard way that we need to follow this model in our farming systems and keep residue on the land to reduce the exposure of the soil to the elements. By practicing conservation tillage especially no-till and strip-till, by taking highly erodible land out of crop production and putting it back to grass, by practicing better pasture management and by adopting methods that restore soil health, we have shown that you can reduce soil erosion and keep the land productive.  We hope this effort at the museum can help tell that story as well.”

According to Hal Clark, this cooperative effort fits well with the missions both of the No Man’s Land Historical Society and of the local conservation districts.

“Both the historical society and the local districts are charged with the conservation of something precious,” Clark said.  “The purpose of the No Man’s Land Historical Society is to keep alive for future generations the history of the region and of those who settled the land.  The mission of the conservation districts is to conserve and protect our natural resources while we feed and clothe the world--not just today, but on into the future.  It’s been said that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it.  It’s our hope that by working with the No Man’s Land Historical Society, we can help ensure that the lessons of the Dust Bowl are not lost on future generations and that we all have an appreciation for how to best manage the land.”


Partnerships Emerging to Improve Soil Health in Oklahoma

March 12, 2014, Norman, OK—Agricultural producers, extension officials, conservation, and government leaders have converged in Norman this week for the annual Oklahoma No-till Conference.  Gary O’Neill, USDA-NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) State Conservationist said “Soil is a living and life-giving substance, without which we would perish.  As world population and food production demands rise, keeping our soil healthy and productive is of paramount importance.  So much so that we believe improving the health of our Nation’s soil is one of the most important endeavors of our time.”

Ray Archuleta, Conservation Agronomist at the NRCS East National Technology Center, in Greensboro, North Carolina and a speaker at the conference, said, “The No-till Conference made a compelling case that cover crops and no-till will get you more from less: Requiring less fuel, less machinery, fewer chemical inputs and less acreage.  These ecological farming practices lead to improved profitability, better soil health, more jobs, improved environmental stewardship and a better quality of life.”

Rick Haney, Soil Scientist from the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Grassland Soil and Water Research Lab in Temple, Texas agrees, and he adds that “Soil is made up of air, water, decayed plant residue, organic matter from living and dead organisms, and mineral matter.  Increasing soil organic matter typically improves soil health.”  Haney is part of a team that has developed an integrated approach to soil testing using new methods that focus on integrating soil biology and chemistry.

Haney said that he and Will Briton, scientist at the Woods End Lab in Mt. Vernon, Texas teamed up to develop an open-source, nonproprietary soil fertility method that goes beyond traditional chemical and physical methods used in most soil tests.  It’s called the Soil Health Tool.  It uses an integrated approach to tell how alive the soil is and it measures the most important nutrient variables.

According to Clay Pope, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD), this push to increase the health of our soils not only benefits overall agricultural production, but also helps the environment as well.

“The most exciting thing for me is when you look at the practices we want to encourage to improve soil health, more often than not they are the same practices we are pushing to help address environmental concerns, “ Pope said. “When we want to reduce erosion, reduce non-point source pollution in water, fight climate change or improve wildlife habitat, more often than not we ask producers to do things like switch from conventional tilled cropping systems to no-till crop production.”

Archuleta is a spokesman for the NRCS soil health campaign ‘Unlock the secrets of the Soil.’ He said
“If a farmer wants to improve their soil, there are a few simple guidelines they should follow.” “These include not disturbing the soil or disturbing it as little as possible; growing as many difference species of plants through rotations and a diverse mixture of cover crops; planting cover crops around harvest to keep living roots growing in the soil for as much of the year as possible, and keeping the soil surface covered by residue year round.”

Mike Thralls, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission agreed saying that soil health is the place were production agriculture and natural resource protection intersect.

According to O’Neill, NRCS and the Conservation partnership of local conservation districts and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission are just beginning to tell Oklahoma producers of the benefits of improved soil health. He said, “The Oklahoma no-till conference served as a focal point for telling the message of the benefits of soil health.  This is an exciting message and we are glad to be part of the team spreading the message across Oklahoma.”



Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, Carl Albert Center to partner to make ‘Conservation Day at the Capitol’ a ‘Take your Daughter to the Capitol Day.’

Oklahoma City—The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of Oklahoma today announced that they will be working together to make ‘Conservation Day at the Capitol’ on March 24, 2014 a ‘Take your Daughter (or son) to the Capitol Day’.  According to OACD President Kim Farber, this new partnership is part of a larger effort on behalf of the Carl Albert Center to promote the consideration of public service as a career choice for all of Oklahoma’s children, but especially a choice for young women.

“OACD is excited to be involved in this partnership,” Farber said.  “As the first woman President of OACD, I feel honored to have this chance to help spur the next generation of Oklahomans, especially our young girls, to consider the idea of working in public service and taking part in public involvement and community action.  We work to protect and conserve our natural resources and there is no greater natural resource than our children.”
 
A project of the Carl Albert Center at OU, The Women’s Leadership Initiative seeks to address the historic under-representation of women in politics, public service, and other leadership roles. The mission of the initiative is to educate, inspire and empower women to become political leaders through a series of educational initiatives designed specifically for women in Oklahoma.  Studies show that young women are less likely than young men to consider a career in elective office and public service.  The Carl Albert center works to change this perspective and help children learn about the legislative process, grow their interest in government and feel empowered to consider careers in public service and elected office.

“The Women’s Leadership Initiative is excited to be partnering with OACD,” said Lauren Schueler, Assistant Director. “We hope by getting more young children, especially young girls, exposed to public service that we are able not only to inspire them to dream bigger through civic engagement but also empower them to pursue those dreams. In addition, we are thankful to the Halliburton Foundation for their support which made producing the handout materials possible.”

Conservation Day at the Capitol will be on March 24, 2014 starting at 8:30 a.m. at the Oklahoma State Capitol at the intersection of 23rd Street and Lincoln Boulevard in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.



Oklahoma Conservation Districts praise National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for program focused on natural resource stewardship

OKLAHOMA CITY—The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) offered praise for the work of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and their upcoming symposium focusing on natural resource issues “Surviving the Elements: Land & Water Issues of the West.”

“Oklahoma and the rest of the western United States face several growing natural resource challenges and it is extremely encouraging to have a facility of the caliber and reputation of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum bring this issues to the forefront,” Kim Farber, President of OACD said. “We are excited to see this educational forum take place and hope all Oklahomans, not just landowners or farmers and ranchers will come and take part in this event.”

Made possible by a grant provided by the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO), through a partnership with Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Oklahoma City and the Coca-Cola Foundation in honor of the Browne Family, Surviving the Elements; Land and Water Issues of the West, will bring together nationally recognized speakers in a series of lectures and panel discussions on topics such as land and pasture management, water usage, conservation measures, and livestock/herd management as well as facilitating a discussion on new resource preservation and enhancement strategies.  

Each Friday in March 2014 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. a symposium will be held at the Museum featuring world-renowned experts on several topics including:

March 7—Past Influences
-Should Ranchers Study History by Rancher and Conservationist Jan O’Brien

-The Culture of Water Law in the American West by Donald J. Pisani, Merrick Chair of Western American History, Emeritus, University of Oklahoma

-Dust Bowl and Beyond – A Lesson for the Future from Past Hard Times by Timothy Egan, Author of the National Award Winning book The Worst Hard Time and contributor to the PBS series “The Dust Bowl”

March 14—Current Trends
-The Challenge of Changing Climate: From the Cowboy to Today by Climatologist Evelyn Browning-Garriss

-A Look at the Economics of Drought—Challenges for the Agriculture Industry and Affected Communities by M. Ray Perryman, Ph.D. Economist

-Drought and Rangeland Stewardship by Patrick E. Reece, Ph.D. Range Scientist, Prairie & Montane Enterprises

March 21—Future Demands & Solutions Part 1
-The Oklahoma Mesonet: A State-of-the-Art Network for Weather and Soil Monitoring by Ronald Elliott, Ph.D, Registered Professional Engineer, Environment and Natural Resources, Emeritus, Oklahoma State University

-America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It by Robert Glennon, Author and Water Resource Expert

-What is the Future of Rangelands? Natural Resources and What Can Be Done to Restore Them by Allan Savory, President & Co-Founder, Savory Institute

March 28Future Demands & Solutions Part 2
-How can you love the land and still use it? Chet Vogt, Rancher, Silversmith

-Innovative Solutions for a Dry Future by J.D. Strong, Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Executive Director

-The Farm Grandpa Gave Me by Seth Pratt, Emerging Leader and Former Western Region Vice President of the National FFA Organization

Those wishing to attend these symposiums can register online here or call the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum at 405-478-2250, Ext. 280.  There is a $10 fee with lunch included.

“We would encourage everyone to come and take advantage of this symposium on these important issues,” Farber said.  “This seminar is a great way to help understand how our natural resources have shaped our past, how they influence our world today and the challenges we have to address in the future.  We hope everyone will take come and here this important information.”

Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts praise House passage of Farm Bill, call for similar action in the U.S. Senate

Oklahoma City—The passage Wednesday of the 2014 Farm Bill by the U.S. House of Representatives is great news for rural Oklahoma according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).

“We are extremely pleased that the House of Representatives took action this week to pass a new comprehensive Farm Bill that not only provides certainty for farmers and ranchers but also continues to give us the tools we need to help protect our natural resources while we feed and clothe the world,” Farber said. “We especially grateful for all the hard work and leadership shown by Oklahoma’s own Congressman Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, in putting together this compromise bill and then shepherding it through the House.  It’s a good bill not just for rural Oklahoma, but for all of America.”

Farber said that the next step in the journey of the Farm Bill is consideration by the full U.S. Senate which is expected early next week.

“It’s our hope that the Senate will follow the action of the House by passing this critical measure on to the President for his signature,” Farber said.  “It’s a good compromise bill that reduces spending over $16 billion while still providing the tools necessary to protect our environment and support agriculture and rural America.  It’s time to move this issue forward.”

Storm fronts need not create Dust Bowl conditions
by Ron Smith, Southwest Farm Press

Article originally featured Jan. 22, 2014 on Southwest Farm Press


Rolling walls of dust moving through Cimarron County, Oklahoma, in early January may have reminded some old timers of the devastation of the Dust Bowl. A cold front that moved into the state from Colorado January 12 did stir up a lot of dust, according to observers, but a return to the devastation of the dust bowl is not likely.

Drought makes the land more prone to blow, says Kenneth Rose, a director for the conservation district. And drought is a common denominator with the dust storms of the 1930s and the 1950s. But different production practices in use now help farmers and ranchers hold soil on the land.
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“Our area has been in ongoing drought conditions off and on since the early 2000s,” Rose said. “And at the moment no change is in sight, as is the case for most of Texas and all the Southwest U.S.”

But landowners have options.

“The best weapon against blowing dust here has been the practice of strict no-till,” he said.  “Various forms of minimum till have been used, but in the years when there have been no crops, it has been the two- and three-year old wheat stubble residue that has been our savior from blowing dust when the winds are like they were on that Sunday.

“It was interesting that day to see areas in the frontal cloud that were normal gray clouds and to see other areas that were brown with blowing dust, indicating bare fields.  No-till wheat drills that barely disturb the ground have also been a big help in maintaining ground cover.”

Rose understands the need to protect soil. He’s lived through a few dust storms. “My farm has been in our family since homestead days in 1907, and over the years it has been through several of these tough times.  I clearly remember as a child growing up in the ‘50s the dust storms that sometimes lasted for days at a time, days when the school bus would be afraid to deliver us to the country, so would drop us off in town.  After dark, when the winds would let up, our parents would come pick us up.

“Those memories remain an incentive to protect this fragile land.  Of course, irrigation has made a huge difference where water is available and adequate residue is not a problem.”

Reducing tillage and maintaining crop residue on the soil also goes a long way toward preserving the soil and minimizing damage from storms.


 National Cowboy Museum Announces Spring Symposium

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum announces a symposium focusing on rural issues to be held in March. The program titled Surviving the Elements: Land & Water Issues of the West aims to increase awareness of drought and rural issues in the American West, by focusing on stewardship and conservation of land and water.

Ranching and the iconic cowboy are both important aspects of the West and of the National Cowboy Museum’s permanent collections, exhibitions and educational programming. The two intertwined play an important role in building a better connection to the past, present and future of western resources. Surviving the Elements: Land & Water Issues of the West is a series of lectures and panel discussions on such topics as land and pasture management, water usage, conservation measures, livestock/herd management, new resource preservation and enhancement strategies. This educational series augments the story of modern day ranching told in the Museum’s permanent collection.

The Museum aims to make an impact and be a change agent for rural issues by creating a conversation between farmers, ranchers and their industry partners to help create solutions. At the center of this conversation will be the symposium held each Friday in March 2014 from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and features world-renowned experts on several topics. Find more information and symposium schedule here.

The program is made possible by a grant provided by the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO), through a partnership with Great Plains Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Oklahoma City and the Coca-Cola Foundation, has granted $100,000 to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in honor of the Browne Family.

Registration fee is $10 and includes lunch. Reservations are required and can be made online here or by calling 405-478-2250, Ext. 280.
Oklahoma Conservation Districts express concern over proposed fees for agriculture producers and other landowners in federal budget agreement

Oklahoma City—New proposed federal fees to be imposed on farmers, ranchers and other producers for basic conservation technical assistance constitute a serious step backwards in the effort to protect our natural resources while we feed and clothe the world according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).

“We’re very concerned about this move to try and balance the budget on the back of both agriculture producers and the environment,” Farber said.  “This action to charge additional fees for conservation work that landowners are already paying a significant portion of themselves not only creates a disincentive to protect our natural resources, it is structured in a way that will most likely end up costing more to administer than it will raise in revenue.”

According to Farber, language in the recently released budget deal negotiated between the Chairmen of the U.S. House and Senate Budget Committees includes a provision providing for the collection of fees to be charged to landowners for conservation planning done by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  Potentially, this fee could be imposed on any agriculture producer who applies for federal assistance under any conservation program administered by the agency.  This fee is especially onerous due to the fact that most NRCS conservation programs are done on a ‘cost-share’ basis, meaning that the overall cost of any action under the plan is already shared between the Federal Government and the cooperating landowner.  

Technical assistance has always been provided to participating landowners by NRCS as a way to defer the cost of designing any improvement or conservation action required by a federal program in an effort keep the overall cost of participating in natural resource protection programs low enough that producers would be able to take part in them.  By imposing a user fee for technical assistance, Farber said that the Federal Government is starting down a road that could result in eventually keeping producers from participating in these programs that generate environmental benefits for all Americans.

“This fee provision creates a slippery slope,” Farber said. “Since the days of the Dust Bowl, the Federal Government has worked in partnership with farmers and ranchers to protect our soil, water, air and wildlife habitats through voluntary programs.  The idea is that if a producer will come to the table to protect the resources on his or her land, the Federal Government would split the cost of the work necessary to do this and would provide the technical assistance needed to design whatever improvement that might be required.  With these new fees, however, the Federal Government is placing an additional financial burden on producers for a service that, in the end, has a benefit to all taxpayers, not just the producer. That’s a fundamental shift in how we protect the environment and in my opinion it’s not a change for the better.”

Additionally, Farber said that there is no assurance that the money raised through these fees will go back to NRCS or even stay with USDA.  This is a major concern since it will cost NRCS additional funds to administer the new fees and in the end potentially cost the agency more money than is being raised.
“It’s bad enough that we are imposing new fees on agriculture, but it’s even worse when at the end of the day it may cost USDA more money to administer those fees then they will even bring in.” Farber said.  “This is just a bad plan all the way around.”

While the budget agreement is likely to pass in the coming days, Farber said that she is hopeful that later action by the Congress and the Administration can roll back these new fee provisions for conservation.
“It’s our hope that once the smoke clears and cooler heads look at how to administer these changes we will see action to re-examine this wrong-headed move,” Farber said.

Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Completes 2013 Area Meeting Tour


via Oklahoma Conservation Commission


The Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) in partnership with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has completed another tour of Oklahoma’s five conservation areas through its annual Area Meetings. In light of the Federal Government shutdown from October 1 through October 16, 2013, this year’s theme was “Locally Led, Not Federally Dead.”

OACD Executive Director, Clay Pope, opened the event by urging districts to work toward greater self-sufficiency and be better prepared to service conservation customers in the event of possible future shutdowns and shrinking federal and state budgets.
 
NRCS Soil Health Initiative
Depending on the meeting, either Steve Alspach, Assistant State Soil Scientist, or Greg Scott, retired State Soil Scientist represented NRCS to present NRCS's new Soil Health Initiative, which returns conservation’s focus back to where agriculture begins, the soil. The presentation illustrated the tremendous gains in soil health that can be achieved by maintaining cover crops that promote cooler soil, greater water absorption, and increased nutrient retention. Each meeting also featured the firsthand account of a local producer's conservation successes and challenges. Download the NRCS presentation.


The Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA)
The Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA) updated audiences on the history and current status of prescribed burning in Oklahoma. OPBA utilizes planned burning practices to reduce the danger presented by wildfire and to control invasive plant species. They are also engaged in training interested individuals to start their own prescribed burn associations for burning safely and effectively.


Budget Panel
A budget panel of OCC Executive Director, Mike Thralls, and OCC District Services and Human Resources Director, Lisa Knauf Owen, provided an outline of the current budget challenges facing the conservation partnership as well as ways districts might move forward in light of receiving less funding. Download the Budget Overview.


Communications
In part an answer to tightening budgets, OCC Public Information Officer, Robert Hathorne, discussed the Commission’s new communications strategy, which aims to provide better support to districts and increase the effectiveness of their communications even as funding and staffing decrease. Download the Communications Strategy.


Blue Thumb and Certainty Programs
Following an update on the efforts of the OCC Blue Thumb volunteer water monitoring program, OCC Director of Water Quality Shanon Phillips discussed certainty programs, which would protect landowners who have implemented conservation practices from further regulation for an agreed upon length of time. Phillips detailed an upcoming survey for landowners which will help determine if a certainty program is worth moving forward with in Oklahoma. Download the Agricultural Stewardship Assurance presentation.


Dust Bowl Curriculum
After lunch, educator, Dust Bowl survivor, and friend to anyone she meets, Pauline Hodges, presented the Dust Bowl curriculum she has developed. The free curriculum is available to everyone and is an excellent way to introduce students to the Dust Bowl through interactive learning.


Awards
Area winners of the OACD Conservation Awards were recognized in the categories of Outstanding Conservation District, sponsored by Chesapeake Energy, Outstanding District Director, sponsored by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, and Outstanding Landowner/Cooperator, sponsored by the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma. The state winner will be recognized at the OACD State Meeting March 2-4, 2014, at the Reed Center in Midwest City.

Water Woes Parch Five Counties, Governor Taps Drought Relief Funds

via Oklahoma Conservation Commission

Governor Mary Fallin has approved $300,000 in drought cost-share funds to help Tillman, Harmon, Jackson, Greer, and Texas counties as they suffer through extreme-to-exceptional drought. The assistance package was recommended by the Emergency Drought Commission.

“I am pleased to approve funding for the conservation districts in the designated drought counties to provide assistance to our ag producers whose operations have been devastated over the past two and a half years by the severe drought,” said the Governor.

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC) worked with conservation districts in the five affected counties to determine the amount of cost-share funds needed by landowners and cooperators to provide water for livestock producers and restore pasture and range land. The Conservation Commission’s request was approved by the Emergency Drought Commission on November 8, 2013.

While the drought relief funds will be managed by OCC and conservation districts the same way as the statewide conservation cost-share program, the $1.3 million OCC approved for that program in September are separate from the drought relief funds, which will be used specifically for implementing drought relief measures in the five counties.
The Emergency Drought Commission is comprised of Secretary of Agriculture, Jim Reese, the executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Mike Thralls, and the executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resource Board, J.D. Strong.

Clay Pope Talks Farm Bill Progress and USDA's New Focus on Soil Health
by Ron Hays

Click photo to view video.
Video originally aired Nov. 9, 2013 on In The Field with Ron Hays.
Article originally published Nov. 8, 2013 on the
Oklahoma Farm Report.

For the most part, says Clay Pope of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, conservation should not be a major roadblock to the passage of the 2013 farm bill that is currently in conference committee. While the language in both the House and the Senate versions of the bill is nearly similar, Pope says there is one sticking point that will have to be ironed out.

“I think the one issue that’s probably out there that is in play yet is this idea of compliance on crop insurance. The Senate has taken the position that it would like it, the House doesn’t want it. How that’s going to come out I think still needs to be decided, but, by and large, we’re really happy with the language that’s in Title 2 right now and both the House and Senate versions. We’re just wanting to see the work get done and finally bring this bill across the finish line and get something in place for the next five years so we can move forward.”

While the farm bill has taken center stage for much of the last two years, the USDA has been working quietly on an initiative to promote soil health. Pope says it’s a subject that is near and dear to every producer’s heart and it’s an initiative whose time has come.

“It’s probably the most exciting thing we’ve seen in conservation in the last three decades. It’s the idea of basically trying to have what we’re calling the ‘Brown Revolution.’ We all know about the ‘Green Revolution’ which revolutionized agriculture and saved millions of lives worldwide: the introduction of hybrid seeds, the focus on improved genetics, fertilizer, doing things to improve yields worldwide. It was good and it stopped at a point. Now, we’ve got to move forward with the next stage, I believe, in production agriculture and that’s the Brown Revolution. And what we’re talking about is improving soil health.”

Pope says that about 60 to 80 percent of the organic matter incorporated in soil in North America has been lost since it was initially plowed up. He says that studies show that each one-percent increase in organic material per acre equates to $700 worth of nutrients.

“It also triples the amount of water it can hold. And in Oklahoma that translates into a three-inch rain. That’s how much additional moisture you can hold in the soil. And how do you do that? By practicing good conservation: strip till, no till, doing things to keep your cover on the ground. The use of cover crops. Taking highly-erodible land out of crop production and putting it back into grass.”

By making use of cover crops, Pope says, we are also learning that that will increase subsequent yields. He says such practices also mitigate point-source pollution impacts and the release of CO2 into the atmosphere.

“The environmentalists and those of us in production agriculture aren’t always going to see eye to eye. And a lot of times we’re just going to have to hook it up and fight. But this idea of soil health ought to be one place where we can come together and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around the fire because, really and truly, if we’re going to feed a world of 9 billion by mid-century, we’re going to have to do more and more with less land. This is the way to do it.”

Oklahoma Conservation Districts partner with Dust Bowl survivor and educator Pauline Hodges to produce new curriculum for schools

 

The Conservation Districts of Oklahoma have contracted with educator and Dust Bowl survivor Dr. Pauline Hodges to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum to help students become aware of the need for conserving land and other natural resources through the lessons of the Dust Bowl, according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).

 

“We are extremely excited to work with Dr. Hodges to create this curriculum and make it available to the schools of our state,” Farber said. “By telling the story of the Dust Bowl we hope to be able to instill in the next generation of Oklahomans an understanding for why it is so important that we protect our natural resources.  We cannot tell you how happy we are to be working with Pauline on this project and we are looking forward to helping place this material at the disposal of our state's educators.”

 

A veteran of more than 50 years in the classroom, Dr. Pauline Hodges has taught in public school and at the university level, serving as a university department chair, the language arts coordinator for one of the country’s largest school districts, and as a national educational consultant.  Dr. Hodges is has also served as a member of the board of directors of the National Rural Education Association, including a stint as board president in 1998. 


The curriculum created by Dr. Hodges is based upon an earlier version she used prior to the recent release of the Ken Burn’s film The Dust Bowl, a production on which she worked as a researcher and in which she was interviewed and predominantly featured.

 

According to Farber, the curriculum created by Dr. Hodges is built partially around the film The Dust Bowl with additional assignments utilizing the book Whose Names Are Unknown by Sanora Babb, a firsthand account of the conditions in the migrant camps of California.  The curriculum will also use parts of The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck’s account of a migrant family who also leave Oklahoma for camps in California. Interviews with survivors whose parents plowed up the land in what would later become the Dust Bowl in the early 1900s only to have it blow away during the “Dirty Thirties” will be included along with excerpts from Timothy Egan’s book The Worst Hard Times The curriculum will also provide a look at federal programs that helped farmers and others survive these terrible times.

 

Activities students will participate in include writing assignments, speaking assignments, opportunities for students to study soil science and farming practices that contributed to the cause of the disaster and even the cooking of a Dust Bowl era meal.

 

According to OACD’s Farber, the curriculum will not only provide a great tool for teachers, but will hopefully serve as an opportunity to build a stronger bridge between the work of local conservation districts and local schools.

 

“Education is the key to making sure that we never again suffer a natural disaster like the one we experienced during the Dust Bowl,” Farber said. “Our hope is that by making this material available to our local schools through our conservation districts, we can insure that the next generation of Oklahomans understand why it is so critical that we protect our natural resources.  We learned the hard way in the 1930s what can happen if we don’t take care of the land.  Hopefully that’s a lesson we never have to relearn.”

 

Anyone interested in the curriculum is encouraged to contact OACD Executive Director Clay Pope at 405-699-2087, claypope@pldi.net, or to contact their local conservation district.

Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts praise call by Oklahoma Governor Fallin to access emergency drought fund

Oct. 15, 2013, Oklahoma City—A call for action by Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin to address the ongoing drought in Southwest Oklahoma and a portion of the Oklahoma Panhandle was greeted with praise today by the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).  According to Kim Farber, President of OACD, the call by Governor Fallin to access the Emergency Drought Fund created last spring by the Oklahoma Legislature was a welcome development for farmers and ranchers in those portions of the state still suffering from the record drought.

“Starting in July most of Oklahoma was blessed with rainfall in sufficient levels to reduce the grip that the drought had on our state,” Farber said.  “Regrettably, not all of Oklahoma has been fortunate enough to receive the rain necessary to break the drought.  Southwestern Oklahoma and parts of the Oklahoma Panhandle in particular have yet to see this kind of rainfall and are in desperate need of assistance.  We are very happy that Governor Fallin has taken this action to help the people and communities in these areas and we are fully in support of her action to access these funds.”

Created last spring through the passage of HB 1923, the Drought Emergency Fund provides funding for drought relief in the form of cost-share dollars for farmers, ranchers and other landowners and grants and loans to communities, rural water districts and fire departments.  In addition to the fund, the act also creates the Emergency Drought Commission consisting of the Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.  Upon the Governors call to implement this act, these individuals are charged with making recommendations to the Governor for expenditures from the Drought Emergency Fund and to serve as a drought advisory panel for the Governor and the various state agencies while the drought emergency exists.  Currently, $3 million is available for assistance from the fund.

According to OACD’s Farber, the assistance in the parts of Oklahoma still suffering from drought is definitely needed.

“The call from the Governor asks that the state provide drought assistance in Jackson, Tillman, Greer, Harmon and Texas Counties. These are all areas that missed most of the recent rains in our state,” Farber said.  “The folks in these counties need help and we in Conservation look forward to being part of this effort.  We are very appreciative of the action taken by the Governor to make this assistance possible.”

Conservation Districts, OETA Continue Partnership on the Ken Burns Film "The Dust Bowl"


The partnership between the OACD and the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) on outreach surrounding the Ken Burns documentary “The Dust Bowl” continues! Due to the generous support of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and other partners, OACD is happy to announce that copies of the curriculum created by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and Florentine Films will be available for all districts, along with a copy of the 40 minute screener and complete four-hour copy of the film at the area meetings later this fall. OACD will also have available copies of a syllabus and lesson plan guide put together specifically for Oklahoma by none other than Dr. Pauline Hodges, former teacher, professor of education and dust bowl survivor.

Our hope is that each district will use these materials not only as part of their education program, but make them available to local schools for use in their classrooms through a “check out” program. We also would encourage districts to explore partnerships with groups like their county Farm Bureau, County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee and American Farmers and Ranchers County boards to use the films and material in their presentations as well.

Please contact Clay Pope at 405-699-2087 with any questions about the material.

NPR Report Says Drought, Budget Cuts Threaten Shelterbelts Designed to Prevent Dust Storms


The extreme drought that has gripped much of western Oklahoma for three years is now starting to threaten the shelterbelt trees that have helped to protect crops and prevent soil erosion for more than eight decades. With government  budgets tighter than ever, a federally-funded replacement of these trees is unlikeley. Read the complete report by StateImpact Oklahoma's Joe Wertz here.
Oklahoman Promotes 'Brown Revolution'
originaly published on the Daily Yonder blog


An “Okie twist” on carbon credits provides incentives for farmers to use their soil to sequester carbon.  Like the New Deal’s Soil Conservation Act, the ECOpass could be a game-changer, says Clay Pope of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. Read the complete article here and click the video below.

Conservation Partnership Develops Online Prescribed Fire Training


Article courtesy of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission

The Oklahoma Conservation Commission has been working cooperatively with the US Fish and Wildlife Service since 2008 to provide funding to local prescribed bun associations, through conservation districts, to promote prescribed burning as a management tool. Now the basic prescribed fire training is available online at no charge.

This online training is the first tier of a three-tiered training model developed by the partnership of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Oklahoma Prescribed Burn Association (OPBA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Oklahoma State University – NREM.

"We are very pleased that this tool is now widely available," said Mike Thralls, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. "The partners have worked years educating on the importance of fire in the landscape. Prescribed fire helps prevent catastrophic, uncontrollable wildfires that devastate people and property."

Tier one, the online portion of the training, includes reading assignments, a video, and a quiz. Topics include fire prescriptions, fire effects, firebreaks, ignition techniques, smoke management, and the best time of year to burn. A module on Oklahoma fire law is also included. Participants who score a 90% or better can receive a certificate of completion.

Tier two of the training is offered as an in-person seminar and includes a prescribed fire field exercise. The partnership has sponsored four of these seminars since January 2013 attended by more than 240 participants. Tier three covers working with neighbors to get experience with prescribed burns.

The NRCS plans to use Basic Prescribed Fire Training as an educational course for its employees. The USFWS Partners for Wildlife program has awarded grant funds exceeding $440,000 to provide training and equipment for the use of implementing prescribed fire on the Oklahoma landscape. 


Click here to watch the FOX25 interview with John Weir, research associate in OSU's Natural Resource Ecology and Management department, who says "Intentionally we burn between one and two million acres a year in this state."
 

How To Access the Training                                

Go to http://campus.extension.org

• Click on Energy & Environment (blue box)

• In the sub -categories box, click on Rangelands

• Click on Basic Prescribed Fire Training

• Click Continue

• Create a new account & start