The beginning of 2020, the 76th year of operations for the Miami County Conservation District, kicked off with our most expansive and diverse action plan in recent history.
We hosted a train-the-trainer event for environmental educators throughout the state, a soil health morning workshop for farmers and gardeners and a prairie meadow meeting for the county’s remnant landowners.
With a newly-created position of outreach and education coordinator and a watershed educator to work in Miami and Johnson county schools, we positioned our organization to have greater impact throughout the region.
Then, in March, — as every other organization in this area and throughout the entire country experienced — our plans came to a halt due to COVID-19. Earth Day events, which usually serve nearly 500 students, were canceled, as were all in-school programs. Field offices were closed to the public, and most in-person events canceled or moved to virtual formats.
Staff set up home offices and learned to host meetings virtually. Professional development, training, board meetings and conferences moved online. These precautionary measures are still in place, nearly a year later.
Even as COVID-19 impacted traditional outreach and education activities, the district did not slow services to area farmers, ranchers and conservation-minded landowners. We continued promoting soil health practices, including no-till and cover crops, resulting in thousands of acres of cover crops planted, with and without financial incentives. Even farmers with decades of experience utilizing conventional tillage adopted soil health methods.
On-farm research is showing that the healing of soil biology and soil structure begins as soon as tillage stops. Our 2021 award winners exemplify these farmers.
In April, we completed a $30,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant that utilized hand-harvested seed from local prairie remnants to restore 80 acres of degraded cropland to prairie in the Hillsdale watershed.
In 2021, we will submit for another grant to hand-harvest seed, propagate plants and restore the Flint Hills Nature Trail access in Osawatomie. Additionally, we hope to complete plant inventories on several prairies and facilitate conservation easements with willing landowners.
In July, the National Association of Conservation Districts awarded us an $85,265 grant to hire a technician to work on urban conservation in Miami and Johnson counties. Chris Cardwell joined our staff in October, bringing years of experience in landscape restoration work and urban green infrastructure (GI). His efforts to assist communities and residents to implement GI practices include restoring community wetlands and incorporating native plants into public and private landscapes.
The district continues to sponsor and lead the Hillsdale Watershed restoration efforts — quarterly stakeholder meetings, outreach and education for students and residents and technical and financial assistance for landowners to implement clean water management strategies. These include livestock management, offstream watering systems, streambank stabilization, wetland construction, nutrient management and soil health, permanent/native vegetation establishment and urban stormwater practices.
State and federal cost-share programs prioritize pasture and rangeland management (rotational grazing systems and brush management), water quality (nutrient management and grass waterways) and soil conservation (terraces and no-till). Special initiatives include high tunnels for seasonal extension of food production and pollinator habitat establishment.
County residents may access all of these programs and more by working with local conservation district and NRCS staff.
In 2021, as group gatherings become safe to host and attend, we plan to offer workshops for high tunnel growers and women in agriculture, in addition to our usual topics. The district will continue to promote and offer scholarships for online conservation-related conferences to Miami County and Hillsdale Watershed residents. We look forward to these events, and reconnecting with our friends and neighbors.
A full financial report, and a link to our virtual annual meeting, will be available online at www.miamicountycd.com just prior to the 75th Annual Meeting, Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 9 a.m.
The Miami County Republic is a valuable partner in conservation, ensuring that landowners are well-informed of conservation issues and programs by publishing articles and featuring award winners in the annual conservation edition.
The district periodically publishes a printed newsletter for members and manages a website (www.miamicountycd.com) and social media tools for regular communications. Contact the district at 913-294-3751 Ext. 3 to join the email list and to find out more about staying engaged with district efforts.