Conservationists recognized

Published 12:59 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

By By JOHN EBY / Cassopolis Vigilant
County Commissioner Carl Higley, president of Pheasants Forever, presented Richard Atkinson the Wildlife Cooperator Award Thursday night at the 61st annual meeting of the Cass County Conservation District (CCCD) at Dowagiac Conservation Club.
State Rep. Neal Nitz, R-Baroda, and Chris Siebenmark, representing state Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, attended, along with Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert Wagel, Cass Commissioners Gordon Bickel, Dixie Ann File and Johnie Rodebush and Berrien County Commissioner Victoria Chandler.
Atkinson “has made that a priority on his own property,” 146 acres south of Dowagiac.
A dozen Environmental Stewardship Awards were bestowed upon the “Calendar Boys,” David Leach, Jeff Tolbert, Ron McAdam, Randy Hartley, Jim “Jimbo” Green, Scott Newland, Daryl Swartz, Mike Tucker, Bill Westrate, Chris Carrick, James Lind and Ron Ransbottom.
Media exposure of their homegrown Cass County farmer tans spanned CNN to The Weather Channel and television stations from Florida to Minnesota.
Farmer of the Year Joe Van Tuyle of Wayne Township was recognized for implementing and maintaining good practices on his land. He has been a “cooperator” since he was in partnership with his father in Van Tuyle Farms.
In 2001, Van Tuyle worked with the groundwater stewardship technician to develop a farm emergency response plan. In May that year he was approved for an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQUIP) contract through the U.S. Department of Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Through this contract, Van Tuyle built two manure storage structures, a chemical mixing pad and a pesticide containment facility. Also as part of the contract, he implemented a comprehensive nutrient management plan incorporating manure management with cover crops and pest management to protect soil and water resources in the high-priority Dowagiac River watershed.
Conservation Educator of the Year is Paula Miles, Edwardsburg Middle School science teacher. One look at her fall curriculum explains her selection. It included a field trip to Cook Nuclear Plant and an alien species unit. Students are assigned research with cartoon accompaniment. Her pupils also write a travel channel commercial that is videotaped and shown the academic showcase. This year, her students placed first in the tri-county area.
Jim Wagner of Marcellus received the Groundwater Stewardship Award. He operates a nursery and finishing operation for hogs. The CCCD director last summer hosted a field day.
In her State of the District address, Executive Director Amy Druskovich reported that the CCCD has been “as busy as ever with the second annual series of three winter backyard conservation workshops at Cass District Library in Cassopolis.
The annual fifth grade conservation tour in cooperation with the Cass County Parks Department exposed students from Marcellus Middle School, Patrick Hamilton Middle School in Dowagiac and Sam Adams Middle School in Cassopolis to Russ Forest.
Druskovich introduced the new groundwater technician, Abbey Dorr, who grew up on a farm in Lawrence in Van Buren County.
She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture and natural resource communications from Michigan State University. Dorr started Jan. 3.
Financially, “Things have been very interesting,” Druskovich said. The state reduced its operations grant from $20,000 to $19,200 and is expected to be reduced next year by another $1,000 to $18,200. “Funding from the County of Cass was eliminated this year, which meant a loss of $3,000. And tree sales were down.”
The CCCD, founded Sept. 17, 1943, has as its mission protecting and enhancing Cass County's natural resources by providing educational and technical services to all landowners.
Treasurer Jan Tolbert, who was re-elected along with Vice Chair Shirley Hartley, reported a budget balanced at $118,515.