Conservation excellence award winners recognized for work on East Troublesome Fire recovery and soil health initiatives
BROOMFIELD, Colo. — Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg announced the recipients of the 2021 Award for Conservation Excellence, which recognizes individuals in Conservation Districts who have demonstrated excellence and leadership for Colorado’s conservation community. This year’s honorees are Katlin Miller from the Middle Park Conservation District and Patrick O’Neill from the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District.
“Conservation work is critical to protecting Colorado’s natural and working lands that support our state’s agricultural sector,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Greenberg. “Katlin and Patrick have shown that when landowners, conservation districts, and state agencies work together, we can create opportunities for farmers and ranchers to engage in conservation practices while protecting their businesses and their bottom line.”
Katlin Miller, the district manager for the Middle Park Conservation District, was recognized for her quick and decisive response during and after the East Troublesome Fire of 2020, second-largest fire in Colorado history. Her actions proved that determination, resourcefulness and partnerships are keys to success in helping landowners in the aftermath of a catastrophic event.
“I am so honored to receive this award from CDA and CSCB,” Miller said. “When the East Troublesome Fire struck close to home in October 2020, the Middle Park Conservation District and I wanted to support our community as best we could. There were so many individuals and entities who stepped up to the plate, not only during the initial response but also in the recovery phase that continues to this day. While my name is on the plaque, I share this award with my fellow colleagues and partners who have also sacrificed and worked so hard for the greater good on the East Troublesome Fire.”
In the midst of the rapidly expanding fire, even while under evacuation orders from her own home, Miller reacted quickly to direct constituents to resources such as animal relocation, husbandry assistance, housing, and food assistance.
In the aftermath of the fire, Miller continued to mobilize resources in the district, including running a grass reseeding and tree seedling programs. Miller used her own home and facilities such as barns and other outbuildings to store materials and ensure delivery to landowners within the district.
Over the past year, in collaboration with Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the Grand Foundation’s Wildfire Emergency Fund, MPCD has provided 41,960 pounds of grass seed (valued at $153,764) to landowners affected by the fire, enough to reseed 1,960 acres. Miller continues to work with federal, state, and local agencies on watershed recovery, collaborating with approximately 40 other partners.
DEVELOPING A SOIL HEALTH INITIATIVE
The second award recipient was Patrick O’Neill, a supervisor with the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District, who has contributed extensive expertise to CDA’s development of the Soil Health Initiative. A soil scientist and owner of Soil Health Services, PBC in the San Luis Valley, O’Neill participated in nearly every Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils committee meeting to develop a soil health initiative that’s appropriate for conservation districts to deliver to their constituent farmers and ranchers.
“We’re facing hard times with drought, topsy-turvy input and market prices, the necessity of aquifer recovery, and the need to build back soil health,” O’Neill said. “Collaborations with many different agricultural and conservation groups have been vital to this work. I’m very grateful for the recognition from Commissioner Greenberg and from the Colorado Department of Agriculture. I look forward to the work that lies ahead to connect soil health with aquifer recharge, and to foster a more functional water cycle.”
Leveraging funding through numerous public and private grants, O’Neill and the MSCD developed projects focused on soil health and unconfined aquifer recharge. Together, and in collaboration with local farmers and the Soil Carbon Coalition, they developed a vermicompost operation to produce high-fungal compost for inoculation of agriculture fields. O’Neill also worked on the San Luis Valley Aquifer Targeted Recharge Project, a multi-year plan to identify best practices for unconfined aquifer recharge and improved ground water resources. As a board member of the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation & Education Initiative, O’Neill is dedicated to teaching others about conservation and has taught soil science at local high school soil health workshops.
The Commissioner’s Award for Conservation Excellence is awarded annually to a single individual involved in conservation district work. No award was given in 2020 due to the pandemic, so two honorees were selected in 2021.
For more information about the Colorado State Conservation Board and the Commissioner’s Award for Conservation Excellence, visit ag.colorado.gov/conservation/cscb.
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