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Rural resources: water and soil

Photo by Rachelle Klemme Staff of the Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District include (l-r) Manager/Weed Inspector Malinda Dexter, Feedlot/Wetlands Technician Molly Costin, Forestry/Education Technician Ann Oldakowski and Water Resource Management Technician Kari Tomperi.

The Wadena County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is a major part of rural life in the area.

"We're always working to protect the water and soil resources of Wadena County," District Manager Malinda Dexter said.

All Minnesota counties have a Soil and Water Conservation District office. The SWCD offices are partly funded by the state and partly funded by local county governments.

Wadena Soil and Water shares a building with the local USDA service center, and an annual report from 2008 - the year of the organization's 50th anniversary - states, "The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District have been working to improve the quality of the environment in Wadena County since 1958."

The Soil and Water Conservation District started in 1958 when the Dust Bowl years created the need to counteract soil erosion from the drought and wind wearing soil away.

Wind and water still create soil erosion today, Dexter said.

"If we keep grasses on the land and trees planted, it stops the wind from blowing too far," she said.

She said that the SWCD has changed over the years: since there aren't as many agricultural landowners compared to the organization's inception, they are now working a lot with lake associations and recreational waters.

Agriculture is still a very large part of their work, however.

"We have a cooperative weed management grant right now, so if anyone needs to purchase chemicals for weed control, we pay for the chemicals if they do the work of putting it on," Dexter said. "And there's an Ag BMP program. It's a 3 percent loan program for installing septic systems."

Dexter said the SWCD has a no-till drill program.

"We have two drills. We have a HayBuster 107 and we have a Truax no-till drill," she said. "We've always had around 30 or more customers using those drills each year, and around 1,000 acres are seeded with them."

SWCD has a cost-share program to be used for a variety of resources including field windbreaks and shelter belts, although it has been getting cuts in recent years due to state budget deficits.

Ground and surface water protection, soil erosion and working with landowners are the main purposes of the SWCD today, Dexter said.

The Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District works with other counties, and Wadena is the lead county in a 14-county nitrate monitoring program.

Dexter said the Soil and Water Conservation District is also involved in education.

They hold yearly Conservation Days late September for fifth- and sixth-graders. Speakers give presentations on forestry, the history of Old Wadena, nature, soils, water, wildlife, wetlands and other topics.

Another program for fifth- and sixth-graders is a poster and essay contest.

The SWCD also awards a $250 to a college-bound high school senior or continuing college student in a natural resources program.

"We had four applicants this year, and they were all very, very good," Dexter said. "Wish we had more money to give them."

The Trees for Wadena tornado recovery project has become well-known, but SWCD continues its regular program of selling trees to interested landowners.

"We usually have about 200 customers or more and we have about around 30,000 trees that we get from several nurseries in the state, so we have to bag and sort those trees for each landowner," Dexter said.

She said the trees ordered for the regular program were scheduled to arrive with the Wadena Area Replant Project trees, and any extra trees on hand April 28-30 would be for sale.

The staff of the Wadena Soil & Water Conservation District wear many hats.

"I'm also the ag inspector for the county," Dexter said. "So I take care of any weed complaints that we have from landowners and I also give out notices to landowners if they're not taking care of their weeds. I work with township officers on that program."

Molly Costin is the county feedlot officer and administrator of the Wetland Conservation Act.

Kari Tomperi is the administrator of the Comprehensive Local Water Plan.

Anne Oldakowski takes care of forestry projects and works in education for the district.

Dexter said that with continuing cuts from the state, funding is critical.

"We're working hard to get more grants all the time to help what we've lost in state and county funding," she said.

The organization's mission statement is: "The Wadena County Soil and Water Conservation District seeks to achieve and maintain the highest quality and quantity of natural resources possible through wise stewardship for now and the future within the limits of human and financial means available."