Wasco, Sherman, Wheeler Soil and Water Conservation Districts win awards

PORTLAND, Ore. – (April 17, 2019) — When it comes to helping people help the land, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) are instrumental in engaging Oregon’s urban and rural communities in voluntary conservation.

This year, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recognized two Oregon SWCDs and one SWCD employee who have done exceptional work throughout 2018 to help NRCS implement Farm Bill financial assistance programs across the state and perform conservation education and outreach.

The Wasco SWCD and Sherman SWCD received the District Partnership Award, and Chase Schultz from the Wheeler SWCD received the District Employee Partnership Award. The awards were presented at the 2019 CONNECT conference hosted by the Oregon Conservation Education and Assistance Network in Sunriver on April 10.

The annual NRCS Partnership Awards honor a conservation district and a conservation district employee who has provided exemplary assistance to implement conservation programs on Oregon’s private working agricultural lands and forestlands.

Pictured Left to Right: Shilah Olson, District Manager for the Wasco Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD); Dan Esposito, District Conservationist for Wasco County with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Amanda Whitman, District Manager for the Sherman SWCD; and DelRae Ferguson, Acting District Conservationist for Sherman County with the NRCS.

The Wasco and Sherman SWCD were recognized for providing outstanding assistance during fiscal year 2018 to help farmers and ranchers impacted by catastrophic wildfires.

More frequent and severe occurrences of wildfire across Oregon and the West is a critical concern facing both rural and urban communities, especially considering recent trends in weather extremes and drought. The 2018 wildfire season brought multiple catastrophic wildfires that severely impacted Oregon agricultural lands. Multiple fires occurred throughout July and August that burned nearly 200,000 acres of Oregon’s wheat country.

NRCS and the Wasco and Sherman SWCDs partners responded promptly and efficiently by offering technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The assistance helped producers address several natural resource concerns—primarily soil and wind erosion, plant degradation, and plant pest pressure.

The Wasco and Sherman SWCDs provided exemplary partnership to NRCS to provide outreach, contracting and field support for post-fire recovery activities in Wasco and Sherman counties. SWCD staff were actively engaged in local communities impacted by the fires and participated in several meetings and community forums to hear landowner’s needs and concerns. Working in partnership with NRCS, they kept landowner’s needs at the forefront of their business approach and offered a suite of conservation practices that addressed the localized resource concerns in a manner that would also meet producer’s needs. The role of local SWCD staff was paramount to the success of this effort. For example, they coordinated the contracting of seed and scheduled aerial seeding applications with participating landowners in a timely manner.

Due to the timing of the fires in late summer, staff worked on a very rapid timeline to mobilize a cost-share program and obligate funds before the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2018). Staff worked long hours and demonstrated an outstanding level of customer service to successfully obligate nearly $7 million in financial assistance for Wasco and Sherman county producers within only a few weeks to meet the fiscal year deadline.

Pictured Left to Right: Chase Schultz of the Wheeler Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD); Damon Brosnan, District Conservationist for Gilliam and Wheeler counties with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); and Kevin Conroy, Acting State Conservationist for NRCS Oregon.

Chase Schultz of the Wheeler SWCD was recognized for his exemplary support to NRCS to further conservation program delivery for the North Slope Ochoco Holistic Restoration Project. This is a project funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, with support from USDA, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Spring Indians, Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Wheeler SWCD, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The project is improving water quantity and quality, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, improving forest and rangeland health, and sustaining agricultural productivity in Wheeler County.

Chase has been a key contributor of the project. In his first year assuming the lead role for the SWCD, Chase coordinated all cultural resource work on more than 20 contracts. He worked with NRCS archaeologists to arrange for surveys, submitted all necessary paperwork on time, and coordinated with the landowners to ensure the surveys were successful. He also worked diligently to inventory, layout and certify all upland practices including juniper cuts, range seedings and livestock water developments.  Chase has repeatedly gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide excellent landowner customer service.  He is always available and approachable and ensures that landowners interests are fully represented.