Mower SWCD hires for new conservation service; District adds watershed conservationist, plans for another staffer

Published 8:27 am Friday, January 25, 2019

Area farmers are gaining services focused toward helping them identify natural-resource challenges along with funding opportunities to support their operation.

Mower Soil & Water Conservation District has hired a watershed conservationist to fill a vacant technician’s role and plans in the coming months to hire an additional staff member to help farmers with conservation planning.

Under this new approach, Mower SWCD is committing more staff time toward doing field walkovers with farmers and agricultural landowners, creating an in-depth evaluation of their land. With that knowledge, staff then can provide an array of options for potential funding and technical support to help protect or improve water quality and soil health.

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This is a new focus for Mower SWCD staff as they traditionally had to rely on farmers coming to them with land issues, said Justin Hanson, Mower SWCD district manager. Now the office can devote more staff time toward conservation planning thanks to increased staffing support overall along with enhanced conservation programs and funding, he added.

Paul Hunter. Photo provided

Mower SWCD recently hired Paul Hunter, a Mower County native, for its new watershed conservationist position to work with ag producers and landowners in the Cedar River and Root River watershed planning areas. Since 2015, Hunter served as an environmental technician for Mower County, mainly serving as the county feedlot officer.

“I’m excited to continue working with Mower County’s farming community in this new way that will help landowners and producers resolve challenges on their land,” Hunter said in a press release.

In his new role, Hunter will develop and implement USDA conservation plans and help farmers apply for conservation programs. He will create an on-site resource inventory and evaluation for farmers using planning tools, such as soil-erosion prediction models, pasture condition scoring, water-quality tools, and wildlife assessments.

In his county position, Hunter was involved with the Cedar River One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P) process required by the state for local governments to create a watershed management plan based on watershed boundaries, not political ones.

With Mower SWCD, Hunter will work with landowners and producers in the Root River 1W1P area well as the Cedar River 1W1P area. Hunter has other natural-resources experience from interning with the Water Resource Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato that included water sampling on surface and well water along with doing crop residue surveys to identify best management practices and tillage rotations.

Mower SWCD’s watershed conservationist position is funded in part by the Watershed Conservation Planning Initiative (WCPI), a new framework for better partnership between USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS); Minnesota Board of Soil & Water Resources (BWSR); and SWCDs. WCPI efforts involve activities to support conservation planning and implementing conservation practices on eligible lands in priority watershed areas, including the Cedar and Root watersheds.

WCPI aims to increase landowner and producer readiness to implement conservation practices in major, priority watersheds. Working with watershed partners, BWSR is providing grant funds to host SWCD offices to hire/contract and support dedicated watershed conservation planners.

Goals of WCPI include increasing SWCDs’ technical capacity to assess resources and prepare conservation plans within project watershed areas; target conservation planning assistance to high-priority areas; and accelerate the completion of conservation practices along with measuring their environmental benefits.

Those interested in getting help with conservation planning should contact Hunter at 507-434-2603, ext. 5, or by email at Mower SWCD’s office is in Austin at 1408 21st Ave. NW.

Applications for new position

In the next few months, Mower SWCD plans to accept applications for the additional position being created to further local services for conservation planning with area ag producers and landowners. Funded by a grant, the position will increase Mower SWCD’s staff capacity particularly for working with its public and private partners in the Cedar River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) focused on helping farmers in a way that supports their environmental and economic needs.