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Support for NRCS State Conservationist Darrel Dominick an Important Topic at Cooperative Conservation Listening Session, Aug. 30, Enid.

Mike Thralls speaking at Enid Aug 3. 30, 2006
OCC Executive Director Mike Thralls

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.)

George Stunkard speaking at Enid Aug 3. 30, 2006
OCC Area III Commissioner George Stunkard
Two Commissioners of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission spoke at the listening session. OCC Chairman George Stunkard said “We’ve heard the saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but I also say ‘if you can’t improve it, leave it alone!” He went on to say that the conservation partnership in Oklahoma was working as effectively as at any time in history, until federal intervention from Washington, D.C., set it back. (Link to George Stunkard's statement)
Commissioner Rick Jeans outlined the chain of events that many believe led to the reassignment of Dominick, from an inquiry about funds appropriated for NRCS technical assistance being withheld from certain states, to an amendment by Congressman Lucas to cut funding for the office of USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Mark Rey. Jeans stated that current Governor Brad Henry and former Governor Frank Keating, as well as Sec. of Agriculture Terry Peach and numerous farm and diverse other organizations and Tribes had issued letters of whole-hearted support for Dominick. That support should not be ignored, Jeans stated. (Link to Rick Jeans' statement)
Rick Jeans
OCC Area II Commissioner Rick Jeans

Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, told the listeners that the government didn’t need to “reinvent the wheel” and that conservation partnership had ended the Dust Bowl and still works effectively today. He also stated his opinion that the reassignment of Dominick was retaliation for an inquiry by OACD, the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and U.S. Congressman Frank Lucas into why federal dollars that were appropriated to fund NRCS technical assistance were withheld from Oklahoma and a few other states.

(Link to Clay Pope's statement)

Clay Pope
OACD Executive Director Clay Pope

George Fraley, a Rogers County Conservation District director and former president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, outlined the cooperation of conservation districts with abandoned coal mine land reclamation and gave examples of successes in those efforts. Fraley also represents the Agriculture and Conservation sector on the Oklahoma Mining Commission. (Link to George Fraley's statement)

"Oklahoma has accomplished significant amounts of reclamation of abandoned coal mines through a cooperative local, state and federal partnership," Fraley said. "I believe our reclamation program in Oklahoma is successful because a local unit of government, the conservation districts, are actively involved in how the program is implemented at the local level. "

George Fraley
Rogers County Conservation District Director George Fraley

"We have been challenged in northeast Oklahoma with the issue of too many nutrients in our streams and rivers," said Scotty Herriman, a Nowata County Conservation District director, OACD vice president and Cherokee Hills Resource Conservation and Development Council board member. "Part of the nutrient increase is attributed to poultry production and the land application of litter. Application of litter to meet the nitrogen needs of the forage generally results in over-application of phosphorus, which can then run off into streams and lakes. While we have made great strides to implement nutrient management practices that better control the runoff of litter, there remains a need to find better ways to use the litter." Herriman encouraged federal agencies to support projects like one in his area. The project plans to use a recently-patented process to convert excess poultry litter in the region into an economical liquid fertilizer and to generate electricity in the process. (Link to Scotty Herriman's statement)

Scotty Herriman
Nowata County Conservation District Director Scotty Herriman
Richard Wuerflein
Garfield County Conservation District Director Richard Wuerflein

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.”