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Extension Program Helps Create Soil and Water Conservation Leaders

It’s a locally delivered educational program to build participants’ skills to lead watershed, conservation and community-based projects.

Attending the North Dakota Soil and Water Conservation Leadership Academy was enlightening for the West McLean Soil Conservation District’s board members.

During one session, instructors discussed Robert’s Rules of Order and how to run a functional and efficient meeting.

“They also covered what as a board member they are able to do, and that opened the eyes to many that they had more power than they thought,” says district manager Corey Bittner, who also attended the academy held in Minot.

The academy is a partnership of North Dakota State University Extension, the North Dakota Health Department and North Dakota State Soil Conservation Committee. Knowing that governing boards dealing with water and soil issues play an important role in North Dakota, officials in the Health Department’s Watershed Management Program approached NDSU Extension about 1 1/2 years ago to create a leadership development program for those boards.

Lynette Flage, assistant director of Extension’s Family and Community Wellness programs, developed the academy with assistance from NDSU Extension colleagues Jodi Bruns, leadership and civic engagement specialist; Marie Hvidsten, Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND) program director; and Andrea Bowman, leadership and community development programs coordinator. They received advice from an advisory council and two Health Department specialists: environmental scientist Jim Collins Jr. and Nonpoint Source Pollution Management Program coordinator Greg Sandness.

The academy is designed for Soil Conservation District supervisors, Water Resource Board members, watershed project coordinators, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Health Department staff, natural resource management students, volunteers, Extension agents and specialists, and others involved in meeting the state’s water resource needs.

For Collins, the bottom line for them is this: “Do you have the desire to show you care about our state’s natural resources by taking action?” If they do, the academy can help them, he believes.

“Armed with a wealth of information and training, academy graduates can return to their respective counties and take an active approach to resource management,” he says. “It is expected that soil conservation districts will create plans to conserve the state’s soil resources and control and prevent soil erosion.”

The academy development team used material on topics, including understanding personality styles and how people with different personalities can work together, effective communication, parliamentary procedure, navigating conflict successfully and ethics, from other NDSU Extension leadership development programs such as RLND and Lead Local.

The academy also includes training specific to water and soil issues, such as the basics of watershed hydrology; board members’ roles and responsibilities in conservation, stewardship and watershed management; and project planning, management and monitoring.

“There’s lots of hands-on, experiential learning,” Flage says.

“This is a locally delivered educational program to build participants’ skills and enhance their ability to lead watershed, conservation and community-based projects that will protect water quality for future generations,” says Bruce Schmidt, NDSU Extension’s watershed and soil conservation leadership development coordinator.

“What stuck in my mind the most was how and what we need to do to host a meeting and get the public to come in so they can listen to our speakers on some problems that occur in the area, and then have the public respond with what they see as they drive through the county,” Bittner says. “Get them to come in and make a list of what they see, and maybe all together we can identify the problem and come up with a solution.”

The academy provides 12 to 15 hours of face-to-face educational programming in two days. It has been held in five communities across the state. Schmidt, Collins, Hvidsten, Bruns and Bowman are the instructors. Katelyn Hain, the Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Nelson County, is rewriting a nutrient management game Extension borrowed from another state for the academy.

“It’s a nice partnership because we have expertise in different areas,” Flage says.

More than 94 people from 35 of North Dakota’s 54 Soil Conservation Districts have attended the academy.

The North Dakota Health Department provided an $85,363 grant to get the academy going, and NDSU Extension provided $56,909. Extension also received a $320,223 NRCS grant to continue and expand the program.

The expanded version, which began in September 2018, has more in-depth training on issues such as group facilitation to get citizens more involved in water and soil conservation issues. Other new topics include soil health, how to bring about policy changes, and coaching and mentoring people to succeed current board members.

Flage and her team also plan to do some ripple effect mapping to learn about the academy’s impact, including how academy participants put the knowledge they gained to use, the most significant changes that occurred, and intended and unintended outcomes.

For more information about the academy, contact Schmidt at 701-328-9717 or bruce.schmidt@ndsu.edu.

NDSU Agriculture Communication - Nov. 9, 2018

Source:Lynette Flage, 701-231-7782, lynette.flage@ndsu.edu
Source:Bruce Schmidt, 701-328-9717, bruce.schmidt@ndsu.edu
Editor:Ellen Crawford, 701-231-5301, ellen.crawford@ndsu.edu
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