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Alpine Team Leading the way to Stewardship Success

story by Jaime Tankersley

The NRCS Alpine Resource Team has helped local producers take conservation to the next level.When the sign up window opened for the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Stewardship Program (CStP), the 5-member Alpine Resource Team was ready. Based on the relationships they had built with agriculture producers through the NRCS offices in Marfa, Alpine, and Balmorhea, they knew they had a lot of people that were interested in taking their conservation efforts to the next level.

CStP is a 2-year-old voluntary conservation program that encourages producers to address resource concerns in a comprehensive manner. Not only do they tackle new practices, but they must maintain, improve, and manage existing conservation measures on their operation. Participants have the opportunity to receive incentive payments for practices that maintain and improve water and soil quality, as well as enhance wildlife habitat.

Team leader and Alpine District Conservationist, Haley Babb, helped to prepare the team for their outreach efforts, encouraging them to help producers explore new management options on their land. Marfa District Conservationist, Santana Villa, and Soil Conservation Technician, Will Juett, saw this program as a chance to intensify conservation efforts and provide encouragement to get producers and the land back on track. Jared Schniers, Alpine rangeland management specialist, and Laurie Meadows, Balmorhea district conservationist, were also on board one hundred percent. They all knew it would be an added workload and uncharted territory of a new program, but results of their actions paid off.

The landowners in the area welcomed the opportunities that CStP brought, and the Alpine team alone received over 400,000 acres in CSP applications for this first round sign-up, with 13 applications on 393, 316 acres being contributed by the Marfa field office alone.

This was the most CStP acres applied for in any NRCS field office in Texas. Impressively, this is Villa’s first position as a district conservationist.

“The young, ambitious team works well together,” said Mark Habiger, NRCS Assistant State Conservationist for Programs. ”The rapport this young group of employees has with the local producers is obvious. They take this job seriously and truly care about the work they are putting on the ground to aid in conserving our natural resources.”

The timing of this program provided the tools needed to continue what generations before them had built and strived to preserve.

“No matter how good of a land steward you are, it’s hard to stay on your feet under drought and wildfire conditions we have experienced since 2011,” Juett says.

“CStP is still a largely unknown program to our producers, so we’ve worked hard to reach out to them and let them know there’s help for them here,” he says. “There has been nothing more rewarding for Santana and me than to see these guys put their trust in us and know that we are there to help them and walk them through this program.”

The Alpine team has generated some eye catching numbers, but what makes it unique are the five young professionals and their commitment to conservation.

“I’d say our biggest accomplishment would be that all five of us on the team have reached out to a majority of landowners/operators in our work areas and it’s showing,” Villa says. “It’s evident in the filing cabinets as we build conservation plans and files for the new customers that are beginning to show up, on the ground as practices are implemented, and remotely by the sheer numbers we’ve posted.

“I can say that in my experience here in Marfa, the knowledge base, positive attitude, and integrity with which Will and our resource team approaches each day reinforces my desire to step up to the plate,” she says. “That is something I’ve seen in others I’ve worked with, but to be a new district conservationist and have someone like that to share the journey with is something that’s just about impossible to quantify. So I won’t try, I’m just grateful for it.”

The future for NRCS remains vivid when it is enforced by eager, sharp individuals with a desire to improve the land and educate and learn from the individuals that operate it.