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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.”

Breshears Trucking Farm hosted 63rd National Land and Range Judging Contest; First Place Results Noted

OKLAHOMA CITY — Nearly 1,000 FFA members, 4-H members and sponsors from 34 states attended 63rd annual National Land and Range Judging Contest, held April 29 – May 1, 2014, according to contest co-chair Kim Farber, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, the contest's principal sponsor. Breshears Trucking Farm near the town of Mustang, Okla. in Canadian County hosted the contest. Total registration for the event exceeded 900 with coaches, sponsors, officials and group leaders in addition to the contestants.

National championship trophies were awarded to team and individual winners in each category of competition including land judging, range judging, and homesite evaluation. Each category included FFA and 4-H awards.

In FFA Land Judging, the North Miami, Ind. chapter won in the team category. Connor O’Neill of the Lind-Ritzville, Wash. chapter won first place in the individual category. For 4-H, the Barbour County, W. Va. club was the winning team and Kelton Miller, Barbour County, W. Va. club, was the 4-H individual winner. Jim Wildermuth, North Miami, Ind. 4-H club coach, won the Adult competition.

In FFA Range Judging Contest, the Hondo, Tex. chapter won the team competition, and April Molitor, Hondo, Tex. chapter won the individual award. The Oliver County, N. Dak. club won the 4-H team category, and Emily Klein, Oliver County, N. Dak. club, placed first in the 4-H individual category. Dave Ollila, S. Dak., won the Adult competition.

In FFA Homesite Evaluation Contest, the North Miami, Ind. chapter won the team competition, and Nick Thompson, Southern Wells, Ind. chapter, won the individual award. The Barbour County, W. Va. club won the 4-H team category, and Harley McVay, North Miami, Ind. club, placed first in the 4-H individual category. Jim Wildermuth, North Miami, Ind. 4-H club coach, won the Adult competition.

Farber noted the idea of a land judging contest was invented by three Oklahoma conservationists in 1943. They decided which soil qualities could be judged and developed score cards to test skills. The idea caught on and Oklahoma has been hosting the national contest since 1952, she said. Oklahoma City serves as headquarters for registration and other activities, with the actual contest held somewhere near the metro area.

The 4-H and FFA participating teams qualified for the national event by placing among the top five teams at contests held in their home states. Farber said the teams match skills in judging the adaptability of land for various purposes including farming, range management, and homesite construction.

The first two days of the three-day event offer contestants opportunities to visit nearby practice sites to get acquainted with Oklahoma soils and plants with information available from soil experts from USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service and OSU. A dance in the evening of the second day gives the participants a chance to socialize with other teens from across the nation.

The actual contest site remains a secret until contest day, so no one has an unfair advantage. Contestants and coaches gather on contest morning to find out the official contest location. They then travel to the site, with a police escort, in a caravan of over 100 cars spanning several miles.

"The contestants take turns examining the soil in pits and trenches dug especially for the contest," Farber said. She noted that the skills the teens test at the contest involve principles that can be valuable in career fields like environmental and agricultural management, natural resource conservation, home building and construction.

The event ended Thursday night with an awards banquet in the Great Hall of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum when the day's freshly-tabulated results were announced. Kim Farber emceed the awards program.

Farber presented the 2014 National Land and Range Judging Contest Honoree Award to Nick Owen. For more than 17 years Owen has played an important part in the site selection and layout of the contest. From arranging for the digging of pits, locating a site to feed 1,000 participants, or parking vehicles and returning the site to the way it was found, Nick can be counted on to get the job done.

"I would like to thank all the conservation districts, businesses and associations who sponsored this educational contest," Farber said.  "It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and money to put on an annual event like this."

"Special thanks go to the Breshears Trucking Farm for hosting the contest," Farber said, "Thanks also to the Noble Foundation for sponsoring the printed program and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum for hosting the awards banquet, along with many other sponsors."

Farber said the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Auxiliary sponsored and hosted the Social Hour and Dance. Members of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Employees assist with the very vital contest tabulating, which takes place in the few hours between the end of the contest and the beginning of the awards banquet.

Contest cosponsors also include Oklahoma Farm Credit, Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, Sirloin Club of Oklahoma, El Dorado Agricultural Products, Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, American Farmers & Ranchers, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, National Conservation Foundation, Biltmore Hotel Oklahoma, and numerous other businesses and organizations.


Oklahoma Conservation Districts encourage agriculture producers to think before they plow as drought conditions worsen

April 28, 2014, Oklahoma City—As the ongoing drought increases its hold across Oklahoma and the rest of the southern plains, agriculture producers should think long and hard before rushing into their fields to plow up acres where wheat is being abandoned or where farmers are considering growing summer crops according to Kim Farber, President of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD).

“We all know wind erosion is a constant concern in Oklahoma,” Farber said. “With the coming summer months being the hottest and typically driest of the year and with the national weather service already issuing blowing dust warnings for areas of the state as far east as Kingfisher and Garfield Counties, we have to be careful that we not open ourselves up to the specter of soil loss and dust storms due to the volatile mixture of high velocity winds and dry soils.”

According to Farber, weather conditions this year present circumstances that raise several concerns when it comes to wind erosion and blowing dust. Drought conditions in parts of western and central Oklahoma combined with the freeze that struck the southern plains in mid-April has caused a potential for many Oklahoma wheat acres to be declared a total failed crop and be “zeroed out” by crop insurance adjusters. Other acres will be harvested, but due to poor growing conditions the harvest will be short. Many producers will consider planting some form of summer crop on these acres and may, as part of their production practices, till the soil to prepare the ground for planting, removing residue from the ground and exposing it to the wind, increasing the danger of excessive wind erosion on acres that have been tilled extensively. All this coupled with a prediction of above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation in western and central Oklahoma can create a recipe for extreme soil loss and blowing dust. Already some cotton farmers in parts of southwest Oklahoma and west Texas have tilled dry land cotton acres for spring planting, exposing the soil to the wind.

“Producers need to look at all their options before they tear into their fields this spring and summer,” Farber said. “Luckily there are alternatives that can help control weeds while reducing costs and exposure to wind erosion.”

According to Farber, farmers and ranchers need to consider alternatives to traditional cultivation such as no-till and minimum-till. These practices not only save soil, they can also save producers money by reducing fuel costs. Studies have shown that no-till crop production requires 3 to 4 gallons of diesel less per acre to produce a crop. In addition, studies by Oklahoma State University have shown that more than one inch of water is lost from the top 15 inches of cultivated soil after the first pass with tillage equipment. These studies also have shown that ground farmed with no-till methods holds more water after each rain event than conventional tilled ground, increasing the amount of sub-soil moisture available for crop production. Additional research has shown that by reducing tillage a producer can also help increase organic matter in their soil and for every 1 percent increase in organic matter, the moisture holding capacity of that soil triples. That equates to additional water for growing crops that OACD’s Farber said will be critical if the long range drought forecasts are correct.

“We have to be mindful of both the current weather conditions and the long range weather outlook,” Farber said. “With the possibility of below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures for the next few months, we need to make sure we use every tool at our disposal to minimize sub-soil moisture loss and exposure to wind erosion. If we can do this in a way that saves us money on diesel costs too, that seems like a good deal to me. The bottom line is that we all need to think before we plow this year and make sure we aren’t opening ourselves up to major soil erosion problems. We don’t need to re-learn the lessons of the 1930’s.”

Producers who would like more information on long term weather conditions and measures to reduce exposure to wind erosion are encouraged to contact their local conservation district office, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission or their local OSU Extension office.


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.”

To download a pdf newspaper ad to distribute to your area newspapers, click here.


National Land and Range Contest Draws Competitors from Across U.S.

 

April 21 - Approximately 1,000 FFA and 4-H Chapter members, parents, coaches, and teachers from across the United States will converge on Oklahoma City from April 29 – May 1, 2014, as they have for more than six decades, to compete in the National Land and Range Judging Contest. This 63rd annual three-day event stresses soil and plant science and land management and conservation.


After two days of opportunity for contestants to visit practice sites (April 29 – 30), official events will begin on the morning of Thursday, May 1. Land judging and homesite evaluation events will begin at 9:15 a.m. and range judging will begin at 9:30 a.m. The contest events will be followed by an evening awards banquet at in the Great Hall of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Championship trophies will be awarded to team and individual winners in each category.


The Land Judging contestants qualify for the national event by placing among the top five teams at contests in their home states, according to contest cochairman Kim Farber. Farber is president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, one of the contest's principal sponsors.

Contestants are tasked with judging the adaptability of the land for various purposes including farming, range management, and home development. The skills developed in competition can be adapted to careers in fields such as natural resource conservation, environmental and agricultural management, and homebuilding and construction.


Farber notes the idea of a land judging contest was invented by three Oklahoma conservationists in 1943. They decided which soil qualities could be judged and developed score cards to test skills. The idea caught on and Oklahoma City has been hosting the national contest since 1952.


As soon as the contestants arrive they will go to a practice site near Oklahoma City where numerous pits have been dug to give them a chance to analyze and learn more about Oklahoma soil conditions. Contestants also have the opportunity to examine Oklahoma range conditions for livestock grazing and wildlife management purposes.


The actual contest sites will remain secret until just before each event, so no one has an unfair advantage. Contestants will gather at the Biltmore Hotel to register, receive procedural instructions and await disclosure of the official contest sites. Coaches and contestants will then travel in a caravan to the site that is a tract of land in or near the greater metro area.


*Please note:  Contest Headquarters for all three days will be in the South Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel Oklahoma, 401 S. Meridian (Interstate 40 and Meridian), Oklahoma City.  There are opportunities for interviews, photos, etc., with participants and facilitators, depending on activities throughout each day. Photo or interview opportunities may also be available at metro area practice sites. Contact Don Bartolina, Land Judging Contest coordinator, 405/245-2324, for locations.  If you wish to photograph contestants at contest site on Thursday, please phone 405/245-2324, to find out location after 8:15 a.m. May 1.

 

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.

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.

 

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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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.”