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Support for NRCS State Conservationist Darrel Dominick an Important Topic at Cooperative Conservation Listening Session, Aug. 30, Enid.
Approximately 160 people attended a Cooperative Conservation “Listening Session” in Enid on Aug. 30. The listeners were David Tenny, Deputy Under Secretary, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dept. of Interior; and Richard Green, Regional Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado were represented among the speakers. About 50 people spoke on a variety of issues including the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts. Many spoke of their dismay with the USDA action reassigning State Conservationist (for Oklahoma) Darrel Dominick, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, to a lesser position in Fort Worth, Texas. (Dominick has since announced his retirement from the service.) A number of speakers stated that Cooperative Conservation was nothing new; local conservation districts and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service have been practicing exactly that since the Dust Bowl.
Mike Thralls, executive director of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, used a quote from Will Rogers to draw an analogy to the reassignment of Darrel Dominick. Rogers once spoke of a politician who “would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump to make a speech on conservation.” He said Dominick had not only strengthened Oklahoma’s traditional conservation partnership, but had torn down walls to build partnerships with other agencies, organizations and Tribes.
Thralls said “You tear it down and are guilty of preaching from the redwood stump when actions such as this are allowed to stand. If you wish to encourage cooperative conservation, federal agencies must act with integrity. And when injustices such as this one are made known, I would ask that you have the courage to correct the wrong. Because in so doing, damaged relationships can be restored and we can move on to the important conservation task that is before us.” Thralls offered the suggestion that any government agency could build successful cooperative conservation by emulating the example set by Dominick. (Link to Mike Thralls’ statement.)
Richard Wuerflein, a Garfield County Conservation District director, stressed that conservation programs must remain voluntary in order to be effective. He also stated that cost-share rates need to be updated to keep pace with cost of living increases. For example, he said, an individual who had signed up to participate at a 40 percent cost-share rate some months ago might now be out-of-pocket more than anticipated because of the great increase in fuel prices during the past year. He emphasized to the panel that losing Dominick was a large setback to Oklahoma’s conservation efforts.
Wayne Spies, a West Caddo Conservation District director and Area IV director on the executive board of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, told the panel about the Fort Cobb Water Quality Project and described it as a model for local, state and federal entities working together successfully on cooperative conservation projects. The Ft. Cobb Reservoir in Caddo County is a Bureau of Reclamation multipurpose lake. Over the years the reservoir has been impacted by sediment and nutrients to the point that some water quality standards cannot be met and beneficial uses were reduced. The local conservation district has been and continues to partner with the master conservancy district, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Service Agency, Conservation Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Agricultural Research Service and Geological Survey in a variety of efforts to improve water quality in the watershed. (Link to Wayne Spies' statement)
Dean Graumann, a Greer County Conservation District director, stated that support for NRCS State Conservationist Darrel Dominick was non partisan, coming from both democrats and republicans, and agricultural and environmental organizations with diverse interests. Graumann added that, in his opinion, U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Mike Johanns should reprimand USDA Under Secretary Mark Rey for his treatment of Darrel Dominick.
Joe Caughlin, a Kay County Conservation District director and board member of the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association, stated " Currently there is an excellent working relationship on the local level between the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission, and local conservation districts. At each and every meeting I attend involving these agencies, cooperation and creating partnerships are the standard.
"We must build on this progress," Caughlin added. "We must have the resources and technical expertise available at the local level to administer the valuable federal programs made available to our landowners and other local participants. How can our local federal employees (whether we’re talking about NRCS or FSA) continue to deliver the assistance necessary to implement these expanding programs without adequate personnel and resources to get the needed conservation practices implemented?" he said. (Link to Joe Caughlin's statement)
Mason Mungle, Legislative Communications director for the Oklahoma Farmers Union, explained the purpose of OFU, its support of conservation, and stated a few statistics on Oklahoma’s accomplishments. And he asked on behalf of OFU for Dominick's reassignment to be reconsidered.
Under Secretary David Tenney with USDA was asked to comment on Dominick’s removal but refused, stating he would not comment on a personnel action. In his closing remarks he referred to the Dominick comments made by several speakers as a disagreement and said that it was good to have a disagreement because it was “a doorway to cooperation.”