NYS Conservation Districts: Providing today, protecting tomorrowby Troy Bishopp

SYRACUSE, NY – American author and farmer Wendell Berry waxed philosophic about our greatest resource: “The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, and death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” Connection, community and care are tenets soil and water conservationists abide by every day.

Each year the New York State Conservation District Employees’ Association Inc. (NYS CDEA) and their 58 respective districts from every county and borough in New York State connect residents with programs, initiatives and projects that conserve, protect and enhance New York’s soil, water and related natural resources. Providing this technical assistance workload and diverse programs to farmers, landowners, the general public, units of government and communities takes training, practical solutions, networking and mentorship to get proactive conservation.

To facilitate novice and advanced learning, the NYS CDEA holds an intensive, four-day New York State Water Quality Symposium for district directors and employees, USDA/NRCS personnel, water quality committee representatives and all conservation partners who seek effective professional development experiences. This delivery of conservation requires ongoing adaptive training, sharing and learning from others about what works on the land and identify ongoing challenges in the era of climate change.

“The symposium affords us the time to train staff, provide networking opportunities and recognize the accomplishments and leadership of our conservation professional family for their important and inspired work,” said Chastity Miller, president of the NYS CDEA and Franklin County SWCD district manager.

The meeting, attended by over 250 professionals throughout the week, featured 42 classes consisting of establishing and running an invasive species program, qualifying for the New York State Erosion & Sediment Control Certificate Program, storm-water management practices, using Cropware Plus to develop nutrient management plans for crop fields, forest bird conservation, successful barnyard projects, innovative grazing management practices, piping used for seasonal livestock watering and micro irrigation systems, management of interfering vegetation in forest landscapes, quantifying economic and environmental outcomes of soil health practices, using drones in conservation, practices and design considerations to enhance in stream habitat for aquatic organism passage and new employee orientation.

The highlight of the annual association is the awards banquet, which honor employees, conservation partners and special projects. This year’s event was led by Miller and Master of Ceremonies Shawn Murphy of Cortland County SWCD, telling the stories of people in the field that have a positive contribution to their respective communities. The highly respected 2020 Willard F. Croney Award for Distinguished Service in NYS Conservation was presented to Doug Fisher of Onondaga County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Last year’s Croney award recipient Jim Lieberum heralded Fisher by saying, “Reading the letters of support and speaking to colleagues and family, several things become clear – the words trusted, professional and respect are often referred to. Family-oriented, caring, supportive and kind come up as well.”

It’s conservatively estimated that Fisher has been involved with the sale and distribution of over 11,750,000 seedlings, planted on 18,500 acres of land and over 2,000 acres of annual cover crops on farmland. He has provided instruction on erosion and sediment control at 128 courses, which totals nearly 3,500 students. He has served on the local fire department for 48 years and assists with the animal response team as well as organizing farm safety classes and helped develop a county-wide Agricultural Spill Response and Recovery Team. “This award is recognition for your many accomplishments, a thank you for your dedicated service and congratulations on your retirement. We all wish you the best and hope that those country roads do take you home,” said Lieberum.

The President’s Award was presented to Madison County SWCD District Manager Steve Lorraine for his practical mentorship, field experience and years of service to the association as president and board member. The Partnership Appreciation Award was bestowed on recently retired NRCS Resource Conservationist, partner, mentor and friend to many Dale Gates. The District Director Award honored Ken Bush, district chair of the Chemung County Soil & Water Conservation District for his 40 years of dedicated service and promotion of the district.

Division Merit Awards were awarded to Megan McAnn of Orleans County SWCD, Jeremy Paris of Monroe County SWCD, Cindy Williams of Oswego County SWCD, Nikole Watts from Chemung County SWCD, Marjorie Remias from Hamilton County SWCD and Joseph Slezak from Montgomery County SWCD. The Special Project Award went to the Ontario County SWCD. The Community Service Award was presented to Lindsey Gerstenslager County SWCD. Robbie Rioux, water chestnut crew leader for the Onondaga County SWCD, received the Heroic Action Award for saving two swimmers on Skaneateles Lake.

“The land is a powerful teacher. The land taught me patience. The land taught me wonder. The land taught me respect. And perhaps most importantly, the land taught me to never forget that we are but visitors, temporary stewards, and what we do with the land will dramatically affect those who follow us. Caring for the land is one way to care for the future,” wrote Jerry Apps, author of “Every Farm Tells a Story.”

To learn more and get connected to your local NYS CDEA staff, visit www.nyscdea.com.