Conservation 101: The process that is taking me from student to teacher

I have spent most of my working life as a secretary and safety analyst with Weirton Steel Corporation, working with vendors and preparing reports and presentations. When I took a part-time position with the Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District, little did I know what a learning experience it would be.

Perception

Up until three years ago, my knowledge of agriculture and soil and water conservation was based on my childhood memories from visits to my Uncle Patrick Cavanaugh’s farm in Mantua, Ohio. My perception of farming back then was all about riding a pony, gathering eggs and drinking the fresh milk produced by my uncle’s dairy cows.

Now, many years and several careers later I have been re-introduced to agriculture through a different perspective. During my first weeks with the District, I overheard the staff using terms foreign to me, such as pasture walks, heavy use pads, watersheds, timber management, and storm water monitoring, and having discussions on how the installation of best management practices impact the environment and our quality of life.

Of course I was, at the very least, overwhelmed by the unfamiliar words and acronyms referenced each day.

Hands-on

I feel the best way to learn is by experiencing things first hand, so I attended a pasture walk where I learned about paddocks, watering systems and rotating livestock. I guess I never realized, or even thought much about, what could happen when cattle are grazed continually in one area of a pasture without any rotation.

Maggie, the Yellow Creek Watershed coordinator working for the District, explained to me that a watershed is the land that water flows across or under to a stream, river or a lake.

AMD was one of the many acronyms that I overheard in board and staff discussions. Because she focuses much of her time on AMD sampling and data collection, Maggie defined AMD as acid mine drainage and described it as the outflow of acidic water from abandoned coal mines. AMD adversely affects the watershed and she explained the difficulties involved in treating and restoring the polluted waters.

Gleaning information

The monthly board meeting discussions also provide a wealth of information for a novice. Upon reviewing NOI’s (Timber Harvest Notices of Intent) with the board and staff I found that there are many ways for a landowner to manage their timber harvest correctly without jeopardizing streams and forests. I have not yet participated in a timber harvest site review, but I plan to do so soon.

I live in the city, and working at the District has also opened my eyes to the things going on in my own back yard. I now know that stormwater runoff is transported to municipal storm sewer systems, and discharged into local rivers. I also know that the “No dumping — drains to river” tags on the storm drains on my street are part of a program implemented by our office. They are a reminder of the importance of ensuring that chemicals, pesticides and pollutants don’t have direct access to our river.

I was also surprised by all of the educational and tutorial programs and activities our office provides for landowners and farmers, youth and adults. Some of these include the Area Envirothon and Fernwood Outdoor Days, and presentations to interested groups.

The District also holds a photo contest in conjunction with the annual banquet each year, where amateur photographers can submit candid shots of local gardens, nature based recreation and scenic/pictorial subjects.

Still learning

It is still a learning experience for me each day when landowners stop in with questions regarding fencing, wildlife, plants and every topic imaginable. We are blessed to have a staff with such diverse knowledge and expertise to answer inquiries and provide information and resolutions to issues that are important to our residents.

Our staff always has an answer to help each person with valuable information. I hope that someday I, too, will have the knowledge and expertise to teach the conservation message to other county residents, the way that working at the SWCD has taught me.

About the Author

Marilyn Ford is an office assistant at Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District. She has worked at Jefferson SWCD for three years. Marilyn can be reached by calling 740-264-9790 or by email at mford@jeffersoncountyoh.com. More Stories by Marilyn Ford

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