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SWCD will look at other ways to fund conservation programs

Fri, Feb 21st, 2003
Posted in Features

Laura Friest, District Administrator of the Fillmore County Soil &Water Conservation District looks at the recent state cuts of more than $150,000 as both a challenge and an opportunity for the organization to do things differently.

When Governor Pawlenty cut $7.3 million in water and soil resource grants state-wide in his unallotment process a few weeks ago, he probably wasnt thinking about what effect his decision would have on local conservation programs. After all, the governor was looking at the bigger picture.

But the loss of more than $150,000 will have a dramatic effect on programs that the Fillmore County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) will be able to carry out between now and the end of the state fiscal year ending June 30. The loss of funds will impact on feedlot, water planning and conservation programs.

We will have a feedlot program and a water planning program, Laura Friest, SWCD District Administrator, says emphatically. But the cuts took away our incentive money to help farmers.

A few years ago the legislature passed a bill mandating new feedlot regulations, while putting in place funding to help offset the costs farmers will incur getting into compliance. That funding is now gone, at least through June.

Farmers have to be half in compliance by 2005 and fully in compliance by 2010, Friest said. We will have to wait and see what they (legislature) do with funding in the next biennium.

Much of SWCD funding is a combination of county, state and federal matches. For every $1 in state funding, SWCD receives $4 in federal funds and $1.17 in county and district money. With financial pressures at all levels of government, Friest is a bit nervous about the future.

We could get hit in a number of ways, Friest said.

But while some administrators might roll over, Friest sees the funding cuts as both a challenge and an opportunity.

If we (state) are going to help people with their feedlots, it should be here, she said, referring to Fillmore Countys vulnerable karst geology. We have to find a way to balance a farmers profitability with environmental concerns.

Friest intends to write a number of grants to private and governmental sources to supplement present farm programs. She also hopes to have her staff certified as Technical Service Providers, thus able to be hired to carry out National Resources Conservation Service projects, as well as other state and federal programs.

The SWCD District Board said at its last meeting that our staff is our biggest asset, Friest said. Our goal at the beginning of the year was to lead the state. We still want to do that.

Friest credits Feedlot Officer Mike Frauenkron, Water Planning Coordinator Donna Rasmussen, and SWCD technical staff with the success of the present program to date.

The SWCD seems to have allies in Representative Greg Davids and Senator Robert Kierlin who have written legislation to have $7 million in RIM (Reinvest in Minnesota) bonding funds, previously vetoed by the Ventura Administration, reinstated. The RIM money would be used as a 20% match for federal Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) dollars.

Friest, who worked for the six county Upper Iowa Watershed Project before becoming director at SWCD November 1, said that Fillmore County has a great conservation program. A fact sheet put out by the district documents some of those achievements made over time:

One of the first districts to be soil mapped;

One of the first County Water Plans to be adopted in Minnesota;

First county to adopt a Soil Erosion Control Ordinance;

First county to complete Open Feedlot registrations; and,

First county to adopt Wetland Preservation Areas.

Fillmore County has led the state with conservation programs, Friest says. Other counties look to us to see what works. We have had a huge impact regionally.

County Programs

Apart from SWCD, the county appears to have suffered little impact from Governor Pawlentys cuts.

The county could lose up to $25,000 in SCORE grant dollars for the year, approximately 50% of its funding. But according to SCORE Coordinator Sandy Benson, carry over money from previous years should be enough to keep the program running at present levels. SCORE money is used to cover administrative costs, as well as information programs geared toward recycling.

Sharon Serfling, Director of Nursing, said that the state will reduce the administrative funds to operate the supplemental food WIC program in Fillmore County. But Serfling is confident that those administrative costs can be absorbed through other funds.

The county board will hold periodic conferences with county department heads to look at the impact of state budget cuts on local services. The first one will be held at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 25, during the regular county commissioners meeting.

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