Conservation Employee Showcase - Mourglia
Aaron Schulz, Earth Team Volunteer and NRCS WAE
If Aaron Schulz mentions that his tenure as an Earth Team volunteer ended up being for the birds, he means it.
Schulz has been volunteering with the NRCS office in Butler County, Missouri, since 2008, when he was a student at Poplar Bluff High School. But his regular assistance as part of a survey team changed earlier this year when NRCS announced the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI). MBHI is designed to provide increased shallow-water habitat in eight states for migratory birds heading towards uncertain conditions along the Gulf coast as a result of a major oil spill.
"The first week of the sign up for MBHI, farmers signed up more than 27,000 acres," says Heath Robertson, NRCS district conservationist. "We needed maps with accurate acres on them that we could show to farmers when they came into the office. It was critical to have the maps so that the landowners could show us which of their acres could be flooded."
So for the next few weeks, Schulz worked 20 hours per week with Carol Frazier, manager of the Butler County Soil and Water Conservation District, to collect maps from the Farm Service Agency office.
"Thanks to their efforts, we had the maps ready when the farmers walked through the door," Robertson says.
Schulz is still helping NRCS with its MBHI workload, but since August 1 he has been performing those duties as an NRCS "WAE" part-time employee. His hiring coincided with his graduation from Three Rivers Community College with an associate's degree in agricultural business. He is continuing his education, and hopes to earn a bachelor's degree and a full-time position with NRCS.
"I really like being outside, and I like working with farmers," Schulz says.
When he's not working on MBHI in the office, Schulz assists in the field as part of a team surveying for various conservation practices, including irrigation water management systems, grade-stabilization structures, irrigation land leveling, and underground irrigation pipes.
"Right now we have him going back and forth between MBHI and CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) work," Robertson says. "In mid October when the farmers start flooding MBHI fields, Aaron will be the one we send to the field to make sure that the work is being done."
Robertson says he will be working with Schulz over the next two years while Schulz is in college to make sure he takes the necessary classes to qualify for a soil conservationist position.
Schulz says he knows there are no guarantees that a full-time position will become available for him in Butler County, but he says he is thankful that NRCS has a volunteer program.
"It's a great way to get experience, and it gets your foot in the door so that you will be a qualified candidate if a job opens up," he says.
Schulz adds that he is happy to have an opportunity through NRCS to assist landowners and the environment, and even birds.
"It feels pretty good to be making a difference," he says.
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