Tulsa County Earth Team Volunteers receiving training for Oklahoma's Blue
Thumb program, a nonpoint source pollution monitoring and education program.
High school students volunteering from Memorial High School in Tulsa. The
student Earth Team volunteers are collecting macro invertebrates in a stream
at Lafortune Park in the heart of Tulsa, as part of the Blue Thumb program.
Volunteers working to remove litter from streams and waterways in Tulsa
County during the Earth Team's Annual Creek Clean Up.
Students at Remington Elementary School in Tulsa receiving environmental
education training from Earth Team volunteers.
Oklahoma’s second largest city has cleaner creeks, clearer water and
hundreds of thousands of citizens that are more conservation-conscious
thanks to the Tulsa County Earth Team – the local volunteer arm of the
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
Last year, the 100-plus members of Tulsa County Earth Team volunteer
group worked over 3,500 hours to benefit Tulsa and surrounding
communities through conservation events and activities. Their
outstanding efforts earned them the National Association of Conservation
District (NACD)/NRCS National Partnership Award. They will receive the
honor at NACD’s annual meeting in Reno, Nevada on February 12, 2008.
“In many counties across Oklahoma, Earth Team volunteers play a key role
in helping the conservation districts and NRCS offices accomplish
conservation goals on a broader scale,” says Ron Hilliard, NRCS state
conservationist for Oklahoma. “The Earth Team in Tulsa County has done
an outstanding job of raising community awareness about natural resource
“Our Earth Team volunteers are the driving force behind our education,
information and outreach programs,” says Gary Bishop, NRCS district
conservationist in Tulsa County. “They have been a tremendous help in
conservation education, outreach activities and in putting conservation
practices on the land and in the communities.”
When Bishop started his position in Tulsa in 1991, he knew effectively
serving an urban area was going to be a challenge, particularly with
only two full-time NRCS employees.
Bishop chose not to see the demands of the 500,000-plus population of
the county as a problem, but rather part of the solution. In the early
90s, the TCCD board was interested in developing a water quality program
for the urban areas.
“Water quality was a prime concern we had,” Bishop states. “We wanted to
find out the status of urban streams and improve them. There was a lot
of development going on, and there were concerns about non-point source
pollutants from sediment, pesticides and fertilizer entering our streams
and creating negative impacts.”
The board secured an EPA-319 grant for stream monitoring and education.
There were 19 streams that needed monthly monitoring. Bishop knew he
could not conduct the monitoring and still provide the on-the-ground
assistance to landowners that he needed to do.
He saw the value in recruiting people in the community as NRCS Earth
Team volunteers to commit their time and talents not only to help
monitor the streams and collect data, but also to provide assistance
with outreach, education and office support. The “Blue Thumb Volunteers”
as they are referred to, began in 1993 as a group of Earth Team
volunteers and they are still going strong. In fact, this is the second
time the outstanding Tulsa County Earth Team has been recognized with
the national partnership award; they were previous winners in 1998.
Earth Team awareness and commitment to conservation in Tulsa County has
continued to grow over the years. Their work includes setting up and
assisting at various events, including the Oklahoma Education
Association Conference, the Greater Tulsa Home & Garden Show, the Tulsa
Environmental Expo, EarthFest at the Tulsa Zoo, and various other events
at schools, colleges, 4-H groups and more.
The NRCS and TCCD provide displays, literature and educational materials
at these events, while the Earth Team volunteers are the primary means
of staffing these booths. Nearly one million people annually attend the
Tulsa County Fair, where Earth Team volunteers work to educate the
public about natural resource conservation.
Many of the volunteers are part of the statewide Blue Thumb program,
which is the Oklahoma Conservation Commission’s non-point source
pollution water education program. In this program, volunteers are
trained to monitor streams, collect macro-invertebrates, and helps make
citizens aware of the power they have to make decisions that help keep
water resources clean