Skip Navigation

Tulsa County Earth Team Volunteers Win National Award

Tulsa County Earth Team Volunteers Win National Award

Tulsa County Earth Team Volunteers receiving training for Oklahoma's Blue Thumb program.




Tulsa County Earth Team Volunteers receiving training for Oklahoma's Blue Thumb program, a nonpoint source pollution monitoring and education program.

Student Earth Team volunteers collecting macro invertebrates in a stream.




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.




Volunteers working to remove litter from streams and waterways in Tulsa County during the Earth Team's Annual Creek Clean Up.

Students receiving environmental education training from Earth Team volunteers.




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 conservation.�

�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

Community conservation awareness is at the heart of all the Tulsa County Earth Team�s activities. In April of this year, they will host its 14th Annual Creek Cleanup. Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are deployed to remove trash, litter and other foreign objects out Tulsa County's streams, rivers, ponds, and wetlands.

Chelle Ragge' serves as district manager for the TCCD and coordinates many of the Earth Team volunteers and activities. She has over 20 years of experience in environmental education, having worked with numerous non-profit organizations sharing educational material through workshops, special events and summer camps.

�The biggest reward for me is when I see the light go on with our Earth Team volunteers,� she says. �Then you know you�ve made an impact in the way they think about natural resources and they are going to change their behavior about the environment.

�But the best thing is that they are going to pass that ethic on,� she continues.

Bishop and Ragge� have tried to create and maintain a challenging atmosphere for volunteers to participate in their area of interest.

�When they can actually go out and work with other people to conserve our natural resources, it helps them feel like they are accomplishing something positive in their community and for the area,� Bishop explains.

Debbie Eagle has been a member of the Tulsa County Earth Team for over three years. Eagle, who is vision-impaired, volunteers at the NRCS and TCCD office in Tulsa two or three days a week. Eagle claims her Earth Team participation has changed the way she lives.

�I have always felt that we have a responsibility to the environment,� she says. �Through NRCS and District events and daily activities I have learned so much about the environment and the things that impact it. I�ve grown more confident in the role I can play to help improve it.�

Visit the Tulsa County Conservation District website for more information on the Earth Team�s activities. Incidentally, the website was designed and is maintained by an Earth Team volunteer that Eagle recruited � her husband, Justin Eagle, who is also vision impaired.

�Our Earth Team volunteers have used their various talents to be a tremendous help to us,� Bishop says. �They have taken a lot of their personal time and effort to help us accomplish numerous conservation activities. The volunteers have worked extremely hard to make a positive difference in the local communities and I am very proud to see their efforts recognized.�

Article and photos by Dee Ann Littlefield
NRCS January 2008
Last Modified: 03/05/2008
< Back to the previous page