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News Release

Earth Team Volunteers Help NRCS Accomplish its Mission

Contact:  Andrew Thomason, Public Affairs Specialist
andrew.thomason@usda.gov | Phone:  (605) 570-2625

Earth Team mentor Jim Faustich gives an educational tour of his operation in Highmore, SD.

 

 

 

 

Earth Team mentor Jim Faulstich gives an educational tour of his operation in Highmore, SD

 

Huron, SD, April 22, 2021 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is honoring South Dakota’s (SD) Earth Team volunteers and celebrating their many contributions to natural resource protection during National Volunteer Week, April 18-24.

Earth Team (ET) is a program that allows the NRCS to stretch available resources by partnering volunteers with employees to provide a wide range of services to private landowners and the public. These activities can include conservation technical assistance, office support, teaching, and generating awareness about conservation through community projects.

“The NRCS in SD continues to capitalize on the availability of the ET Volunteer Program and partnering with likeminded conservation professionals. As an agency, we recognize the extreme value of this ET program and our ability to work with talented, enthusiastic, and dedicated volunteers on outreach efforts and getting conservation on the ground” said Acting State Conservationist Laura Broyles. Last year, over 250 South Dakotans donated more than 1,600 hours of service individually with groups totaling over 3,200 hours.

The NRCS appreciates the important work these volunteers do. Their efforts help the NRCS bring more conservation services to farmers and ranchers throughout the state. South Dakota’s ET provided thousands of dollars of value to our customers and taxpayers in 2020. Here are a few examples of the outstanding work being done throughout the state to help improve lands, wildlife habitat, air quality, and water quality for everyone:

Firesteel Creek runs from Jerauld County and flows through Aurora and Davison County into Lake Mitchell. The watershed covers 351,000 acres of predominately agricultural land. The lake has declined in quality recently due to phosphorus and sediment loading. The Friends of Firesteel formed to help take care of the lake and the surrounding agricultural land. Led by producers such as Craig and Gene Stehly, the group has helped educate producers, install conservation practices, and bring about real change to the quality of Lake Mitchell’s water.

In addition to on-the-ground efforts such as Firesteel Creek, volunteers also serve as a tool for education. Now a Civil Engineering Technician, Lander Legge served as an ET volunteer while working and in school. Through the ET he learned about designing pipeline systems and earned opportunities to work on watershed delineations for dam projects. Legge’s volunteering helped him make the decision to join the agency, becoming an asset for conservation across SD.

Despite the challenges created by the pandemic in 2020, ET volunteers have continued offering their time to educate and conserve natural resources.

To help facilitate volunteer activity, a mentor network mobile app is being developed in a partnership agreement between the NRCS and the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition (SDSHC). The app, tentatively set to be released in summer 2021, will provide a digital platform to connect producers to mentors who have experience in various soil health practices. This will allow mentors to share their knowledge, experience, and perspectives on numerous topics from cover crops to business management. “This is an exciting new opportunity to connect mentor volunteers to producers to promote soil health,” explains Rachel Giles, SD NRCS Public Affairs Specialist and initial Product Designer of the app. “This app will connect a producer with questions on soil health practices not only to science-based information, but to a digital conversation and initiate new local community relationships. With the help of the SDSHC, we can make a greater conservation impact with this new platform, facilitating conversations between volunteers and producers that result in a higher rate of successful soil health practices on the landscape.

The ET Volunteer Program helps its participants expand their skills and knowledge through community projects. The program also offers participants community service hours, earned academic credit, and an unpaid internship in federal service. Visit our ET Web site – www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/sd/people/volunteers/ to sign-up for volunteer opportunities in your community.

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