Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Youth Education

By Jennifer Thum

This year was an exciting one, like most.  That being said, it seemed that youth education was one of the top priorities for the Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) in Northeast Indiana.  I was fortunate enough to assist several districts in their youth education events, and I wanted to highlight the events in Adams, Wabash and Steuben Counties.  Each county has similar programs, but each with its own individual flair.  They all have the same objective, which is to teach our youth about the wonderful world of conservation. 

The first event that I was able to assist with was in Adams County.  I was asked to teach 6th graders on the importance of water conservation though an activity called “common water” as outlined in the Project Wet manual.  The day was warm, so the kids did not mind getting wet at all.  The event featured rotating stations displaying GPS systems, beef calves, soils, pollinators and worms.  This education event was done at the two middle schools in Adams County over the course of two days. There were several volunteers on hand to help with the event including, Purdue Extension, Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Indiana State Department of Agriculture, the SWCD’s board of supervisors, and even a local forester.  It was a lot of fun and a very rewarding day.  In total, we reached over 400 kids.

Bellmont J.H. - Listening to Sill Sarfi

The second event was in Steuben County, at Pokagon State Park in Angola.  All of the 4th graders from their county attended this event, which meant that I would be assisting over 300 kids.  It was a little intense at first, but they were all wonderful kids.  For this event, the kids rotated between stations and heard lessons on wildlife, soil, forestry, fish management, 4H natural resources and water/water safety.  At the end of the day, all the kids were given a shirt that was designed by one of the students.  The kids had to do a pre-test before the event and then did a post-test following.  Upon reviewing them, those kids did learn a lot. The neat part was watching the kids asking questions and being actively engaged.  They were learning and having fun at the same time, it was so wonderful to see. 

4th Graders Arriving at Pokagon Park
The last youth education event I assisted with this year was for 4th graders at Wabash County’s annual Ag Expo.  It was similar to the other two events, but the stations were different.  For their event, there were topics on ATV safety, dairy cows, water erosion (shown by a stream table), birds of prey, pollinators and shearing of sheep and alpacas.  I assisted with the stream table where the kids learned about the effects of erosion and pollution by watching running water start at the top of the table and work its way down.  The kids could see the effect of the water.  At one point, one of the fake cows that was standing at the top an embankment fell into the stream due to the erosion of the bank.  This got a good laugh from the kids, but also allowed for a teachable moment.  Not only was it entertaining, but they also learned that we need to take care of our soil.  
The Stream Table
I really enjoyed spending time with the youth in those counties.  Having the kids outside the classroom to learn about conservation and to meet people in the field that assist farmers and also protect our natural resources was really beneficial.  At all three events, the kids got something out of each session, and in some cases even mentioned that they were going to share what they had learned with their family.  For me, personally, it was the “common water” session that hit home for the students.  Kid after kid talked about rain barrels and how they wanted one for their house.  For them to take away at least one thing that they learned to share with their parents is a wonderful thing.  While they might not be current land owners, they will be one day and one of these events can help them in understanding the importance and responsibility of taking care of our soil and water.  That is a wonderful thing. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Morgan County SWCD Fall Events

By Leah Harmon

During September and October, Morgan County SWCD has hosted and participated in events to highlight opportunities in conservation within the community. Morgan County SWCD has a large focus on education, thus events such as the Morgan County Career Expo and conservation tours are a great way to reach their target audience.

The District and ISDA participated in the Morgan County Career Expo, hosted by the Morgan County Economic Development Corporation. This event allowed both Morgan County SWCD and ISDA representatives interact with high school students from five schools within Morgan County. The SWCD used the expo to gauge interest in forming a youth conservation board to engage young people in conservation. Throughout the fair, SWCD staff talked to hundreds of kids and almost 50 expressed interest in joining the youth conservation board.

In early October, Associate Supervisor Chris Parker organized the District’s annual conservation tour in conjunction with Morgan County’s Fall Foliage Festival. This year, the District toured Thiesing Veneer and Indiana Hardwoods. At Thiesing veneer, the 25 participants learned about the products that are created in the plant, where timber for veneer is sourced, and how veneer is manufactured. Many participants said it was one of the best conservation tours Morgan County SWCD has ever hosted.

Morgan County SWCD is reaching audiences of all ages through these events. The Career Expo Targeted high school kids while the conservation tour reached both adults and children. Hosting and participating in events like these, helps the District tell its story to the general public in a way that is accessible and helps to spread the word about conservation to a non-traditional audience.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Western Lake Erie Basin – Agriculture taking action

Each summer, Lake Erie goes through a shift in color, as the normal dark blue of the water becomes mixed with the swirls and swaths of vibrant green from algal blooms that spread throughout the shallower sections of the lake. This vibrant green color comes from a population explosion of algae - known as a cyanobacterium - which is touched off by a combination of warm waters, sunshine and an abundant supply of nutrients.  “Blooms generally occur where there are high levels of nutrients present, together with the occurrence of warm, sunny, calm conditions. However, human activity often can trigger or accelerate algal blooms. Natural sources of nutrients such as phosphorus or nitrogen compounds can be supplemented by a variety of human activities. For example, in rural areas, agricultural runoff from fields can wash fertilizers into the water. In urban areas, nutrient sources can include treated wastewaters from septic systems and sewage treatment plants, and urban storm water runoff that carry nonpoint-source pollutants such as lawn fertilizers.” [1]  “The severity of the Algal Bloom is dependent on the phosphorus inputs from March 1st to July 31st, which is known as the loading season. The cause of algae blooms is complex; water temperature, lack of agitation, rainfall and runoff from farms and lawns, zebra mussels and the impacts of climate change all can contribute to the problem.”[2]

Farmers and the agricultural focused agencies and industry are doing their part to address this challenge. While the Federal Government has several sources of funding made available to the farmers in the Basin, it’s the education component that are getting farmers to make the change from conventional farming to conservation farming.  At these events, they are learning how the nutrients that are coming off their fields play a part in the algal blooms.  The Soil and Water Conservation Districts along with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture have been putting on educational events for the farmers in the Basin. Those events include field days, trips on Lake Erie, and educational workshops for both farmers and their CCA’s. 

The Allen County SWCD, the Tri-State Watershed Alliance and the Soil Health Partnership organized a field day in Harlan, IN.  The field day featured presentations on soil testing for soil health, the importance of cover crops, what cover crops means for insurance, crop crops and herbicide carryover, and hands on demonstration with cover crops planting equipment. During lunch, there was a presentation on the WLEB RCPP and how farmers can sign-up for the assistance. In addition, we asked the AG retailers, CCAs, and farmers the amount of acres that have in the WLEB, and we had over 200,000 acres between all of them.

 Cover crop hands on demonstration

Discussion on soil sampling 

Steuben County SWCD partnered with the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative (CCSI) to hold a field day featuring Mr. Ray Weil.  Dr. Weil is a professor of soil science at the University of Maryland and teaches farmers the importance of soil health. The event was held at Moody Farms in Fremont, IN.  The event was a huge success and we were able to get several conventional farmers in attendance, who were very engaged during the soil pit session.  The more educational event we can do, the better chance we have at reducing the amount of runoff from our soils.  The farmers in the Basin have been actively involved in conservation farming for years.  For the past few years, the farmers in Indiana have really set the pace regarding conservation and looking at moving their farm operation towards the systems approach to conservation farming, where you have a suite of Best Management Practices including in-field, edge-of-field and in-stream practices.

Dr. Ray Weils 

Dr. Ray Weil’s in a soil pit 

In effort to showcase how the State of Indiana has been working on reducing the nutrients that flow into our waterways, we have been working on a Nutrient Reduction Strategy that will capture present and future endeavors in Indiana, which will a positive impact on the state’s waters.  This report will be completed by the end of October 2015.  Voluntary conservation efforts from private landowners in Indiana with support from the Indiana Conservation Partnership have reduced nutrients and sediment from entering Indiana’s waterways.  Since 2013, we have reduced; 1,209,756 tons of sediment, 2,513,693 pounds of nitrogen and 1,250,592 pounds of Phosphorus.[3] These reductions were reduced by our farmers using Best Management Practices such as no-till, reduced tillage, cover crops, grassed waterways, wetland enhancement, filter strips, nutrient management and riparian buffers. The data is collected from the Indiana Conservation Partnership and then it’s aggregated using the USEPA’s Region 5 model to show the total nutrient and sediment reductions. If you would like more information about Indiana’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, please see www.isda.in.gov

[1] “Algal Blooms in fresh Water,” September 9, 2015,  http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/A-Bi/Algal-Blooms-in-Fresh-Water.html
[2] “USDA To Expand Investment In Water Quality within Western Lake Erie Basin,” USDA/August 29, 2015, www.usda.gov 
[3]Indiana State Department of Agriculture. (2015).  Indiana Nutrient and Sediment Load Reductions.  [Flyer] NP

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fall/Winter Cover Crop and Tillage Transect in Scott County

By Laura Fribley

In late 2014, Indiana conservation agencies conducted a cover crop and tillage transect.  This was the first time the survey was conducted statewide during this timeframe. Data collected will help track trends in conservation tillage, energy consumption, and cover crop information on the county, watershed, and statewide level.  Cover crops were a key focus of the data collection.  Due to the nature of winter kill, decomposition, early spring planting, tillage, etc., it is easier to accurately capture this information in the late fall or early winter versus the spring.

Picture: Ed Roll grabs a handful of cereal rye that was drilled in as a cover crop.  This is the fourteenth time Ed has helped conduct the tillage transect survey in Scott County. 

The tillage transect follows a set, pre-determined route in each county.  Local personnel drive this route and note information about each field marked in the survey.  Scott County’s 2014 team included Kevin Baird (ISDA Resource Specialist), Kari Harrison (Scott County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) District Coordinator), Jennifer Kipper (Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist), and Ed Roll (Earth Team Volunteer).

Picture: the Scott County survey team pauses to look at a field planted in cover crops.  It felt like walking on a sponge, which is common in no-till fields not hardened by compaction.

Dan Smith, a board member of the SWCD, has been planting cover crops for three years.  “Cover crops improve the soil and erosion.  Cereal rye has a root system like you wouldn’t believe,” he says.  “My dad used to plant red clover, and this was 50 – 60 years ago.  He knew what he was doing.  When you see positive results, you pay attention.  I’ve been no-tilling since 1992.  It’s part of a management thing- they go hand in hand.” Some of Dan’s fields are captured in the tillage transect.

Picture: a close up view of cereal rye planted after soybeans.  Cereal rye can be seeded later in fall than other cover crops and still provide significant reduction of nitrate leaching and exceptional weed suppression.

In early summer 2015, teams statewide will visit these same points again and collect data, including a team in Scott County.  The transect surveys have been collected since 1990.
Find more statewide information about the cover crop and tillage transect at: http://www.in.gov/isda/2383.htm

Friday, May 15, 2015

State Soil Conservation Board visits Culver, IN

By Geneva Tyler

On May 12, 2015 the State Soil Conservation Board held their most recent meeting at the Vandalia Depot, located in Culver, IN, which was an active train station up until 1947. 

Culver, IN is located adjacent to Lake Maxinkuckee, the 2nd largest natural lake in Indiana, second only to Lake Wawasee.  Lake Maxinkcukee is “a 1,864 acre kettle lake located in the southwest corner of Marshall County…and was formed approximately 15,000 years ago by the receding glaciers”.  The lake is fed by 21 underground springs and maintains clarity to a depth of about 20 feet.  (www.lakemax.org). 

Following the meeting, those in attendance were privy to a special presentation by Kathy Clark, Executive Director of the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council (LMEC), and Allen Chesser, Chairman of the LMEC.  Kathy and Allen shared the rich history of the lake which dates back to the Ice Age as well as current efforts to keep the lake healthy for future generations.  The LMEC works closely with Culver Academy and agencies within the Indiana Conservation Partnership to implement soil and water conservation practices vital to maintaining the water quality that makes Lake Maxinkuckee so inviting.  Constructed wetlands have been created at critical areas in the lake’s watershed to help filter incoming surface waters.  In addition, various urban practices are encouraged on residential sites directly surrounding the lake.  These urban efforts may include rain barrels, rain gardens and maintaining as much green space as possible on individual lots.  The LMEC is also an educational resource for the watershed and provides continuous information to landowners in the area regarding lake ecology, nutrient management and water quality.

We thank the Lake Maxinkuckee Environmental Council for their conservation efforts and for their hospitality!”

Monday, May 4, 2015

Conservation Districts assist local contractors with NRCS guidelines

By: Jennifer Thum (ISDA) 

Indiana’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts are responsible for the review of erosion and sediment control plans that are submitted to them.  The purpose of the Rule 5 general permit is to establish requirements to protect state waters from adverse effects of stormwater discharge from construction activities.  Each district is unique on how they handle the erosion permit review process.  In the northeast portion of the state, there are some districts that handle all the reviews and site inspections, some just review the plans, and some rely on the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to review the plans.  Like any relationship, communication is the key to make sure both parties understand their role in what is required of them.  In order to make the review process easier on both the contractors and SWCD staff, several northeast SWCDs organized and held “contractor breakfasts” during the first quarter of this year.

The Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Miami, Howard, and Wabash hosted a Contractors Workshop on Thursday, February 12th, held in Peru.  This workshop featured information on drainage water management, Bio-reactors, 2-stage ditches and rip-rap, as well as pre-construction and Installation Guidance.  One of the highlights was Amie Lester, NRCS CDT Leader and Engineer.  Amie talked about the rip-rap sizing and the problems that they were having with the rock specifications and the local quarries.  Amie told the audience what size rock to specifically ask for when they are working on an NRCS project.  Duane Riethman, NRCS NE Area Engineer talked about drainage water management, bio-reactors, and showed some before and after pictures of a farm field where a 2-stage ditch was installed.

Figure 1: Contractors’ listening to Duane Riethman, NRCS.
Picture taken by Sarah Lake, ISDA

Figure 2: Contractors' listening to Amie Lester, NRCS.
Picture taken by Sarah Lake, ISDA

The Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Stormwater Management Partners of Elkhart, Kosciusko and St. Joseph hosted a spring contractor workshop on February 24th in Nappanee.  That workshop featured topics on “Why is Erosion Control Important?” and “Financing Erosion Control.”  The contractors heard from Dr. Nathan Bosch on why erosion control is so important to our safety and welfare.

Both events were a HUGE success and the contractors in the room walked away with knowledge and a better understanding of the SWCDs role in the construction world.  In addition, both events had ample time for the contractors to speak with the Rule 5 reviewers. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Youth Education Day at Limberlost Nature Preserve

          By: Jennifer Thum (ISDA) and Bettie Jacobs (Jay Co. SWCD)

For the past ten years, Jay County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) along with ecologists, historical storytellers, NRCS and the IDNR, have organized and hosted a wetland educational field day at the Limberlost Preserve located in Jay County.  The event is for ALL Jay County 5th grade students.  There are seven elementary schools, and to be exact, that is 256 kids in all.  The field day provides a unique opportunity for state biologists and enforcement officers, ecologists, scientists, and conservationists to come together and share their passion for nature with students who might otherwise not learn about wildlife in their own backyard.    This was my first year as a District Support Specialist for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and I was able to volunteer at this event; I am so glad that I did.  During the event, I wandered to each of the nine learning stations and saw firsthand the excitement on the kids’ faces as they were having fun and learning about animal pelts, beaver dams, the insects that call the wetland home, and my favorite station, the history of Limberlost as told by Betty Drinkut.  As a parent, I think it’s wonderful that the school district and the local conservation district organize an event that allows the children to step outside the classroom and experience nature through educational presentations, demonstrations, and hands-on activities that teach them about the environment, wildlife, and wetlands.   

When the students arrive, they are accompanied by their teachers and chaperones through a rotation of nine learning stations.  The learning stations are all based upon “Wetland Education”.  The stations are 20 minutes in length and are “manned” by staff of DNR, NRCS, and Friends of the Limberlost volunteers.  Topics that are covered are:
Why Wetlands? – Explains to the students the benefits of a wetland.  This learning station is manned by Al Schott, DNR;
What’s Slithering? – Shares with the students some of the “cold-blooded” residents of the wetlands including “preserved” species and a live snake.  Manned by Curt Burnedette, the Educator at the Limberlost Nature Preserve;
Birds of the Wetlands – How the wetlands benefit our feathered friends.  Manned by Connie Ronald, member/volunteer of the Friends of the Limberlost;
Woodland Hike – Students hike through a section of woods while trees are identified.  Manned by two DNR staff members, Fred Affolder & Lorraine Shier;
Insect Dig – Living larvae and water dwellers are dug up from the wetlands.  Students are then allowed the opportunity to “sift” through harvested wetland bottom and discover/identify life!  Manned by DNR;
Wetland Wildlife – DNR Conservation Officers handle this station.  They bring animal pelts for the students to handle/identify and a Beaver Mount is made available as well.  This past October we were really fortunate to have a large, active beaver dam at this learning station site!  
What do you see? – NRCS Jayson Mas handles this station.  The Jay SWCD obtained local grant funding and 30 pair of binoculars were purchased, allowing each student the opportunity to “search” the wetland area with “eyes”!  For many students, this is the 1st time they’ve ever used binoculars!
Native Plants – Consists of a short hike while native grasses and plants are identified.  We are fortunate to have Ben Hess, the Regional Ecologist of the DNR Division of Nature Preserves, sharing his knowledge with the students at this learning station.
History of the Limberlost – Students learn how this area all came about, how it was originally a wetland, and how several years attempts were made to drain and farm, unsuccessfully…. and how Gene Stratton Porter was involved!  Ken Brunswick, retired DNR, generally handles this learning station and even has an amusing, but true, story of how Limberlost got its name!

Curt Burnedette – Limberlost Nature Center, Educator.  “History of the Wetlands”

“What Do You See?”

“Wetland Wildlife”

“Why Wetlands?”  - Demonstrating Bottom Soil Remover

“Insect Dig”


Active Beaver Dam – on site!