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Virginia Kidd, Darrel Dominick and Mike Thralls
(From left) Area V Commissioner Virginia Kidd, NRCS State Conservationist Darrel Dominick and OCC Executive Director Mike Thralls.

Oklahoma Conservationists Outraged at USDA Decision

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma conservationists expressed outrage today at a decision by Mark Rey, USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment. On Aug. 10 Rey made the decision to reassign Darrel Dominick, state conservationist in Oklahoma for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), to a position in Fort Worth, Texas. The reason given for Dominick’s reassignment was that he was not effective in working with conservation partners in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s conservation organizations have taken strong exception to Rey’s reasons for the reassignment. According to George Stunkard, chairman of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission “Mr. Dominick has been an outstanding leader in natural resource conservation in the state. He has worked closely with our state agency to ensure that Oklahoma’s land managers receive the best possible conservation services. For the Undersecretary to say that Mr. Dominick has not worked effectively with his principal state partner is outrageous.”

Earlier this year the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts enlisted the help of Congressman Frank Lucas to find out why NRCS was reducing funding in Oklahoma for the technical assistance needed to carry out the conservation programs of the 2002 federal Farm Bill. Congressman Lucas also was frustrated in his efforts to get an explanation from the NRCS about how they allocated federal appropriations for technical assistance. His frustration resulted in an amendment he authored to the 2007 USDA appropriations bill that eliminated funding for the office of the Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Mark Rey. The amendment passed the House of Representatives.

“We find it to be more than a coincidence that Mr. Rey chose to reassign Mr. Dominick to a position outside Oklahoma. It appears to us that it was a political act of retribution by Mr. Rey for Oklahomans to dare to ask the question of where needed technical assistance money was going within the USDA” said Dan Lowrance, president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. Lowrance went on to say “Darrel Dominick is committed to working closely with Oklahoma’s 88 conservation districts. He believes in locally-led conservation where our local board members set the conservation priorities in their communities. There is not a more committed conservationist in the state than Darrel Dominick.”
Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts, pointed out that Dominick was raised on a small cow/calf operation near Hartshorne, Okla., and is the third generation of his family to work for the conservation service in Oklahoma. His grandfather and father both spent their careers in the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, which changed its name to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in 1994. He also served on numerous civil rights and Native American committees within USDA and received numerous honors for his conservation accomplishments.

Other Oklahoma conservation and agriculture leaders expressed support for Dominick.

Terry Peach, state Sec. of Agriculture, summed up Oklahoma’s concern in this way: “In the past six years I have worked with Darrel in three ways – as FSA (USDA Farm Service Agency) state executive director, as a farmer and rancher in western Oklahoma, and the past three-and-a-half years as the Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture. I assure you there is not anyone more honest, trustworthy, or as strong a team builder as Darrel Dominick.” Sec. Peach has asked U.S. Secretary Mike Johanns to review this “misguided decision” and offered to visit personally with the U.S. Sec of Agriculture on the subject.

Bob Drake, chair of the National Grazinglands Coalition also supports Dominick’s work in Oklahoma. “Mr. Dominick has demonstrated continuous support to those of us who are concerned about the management of our state’s and nation’s grasslands. Grasslands management is a significant resource issue in Oklahoma and I have been proud to be associated with a conservation leader like Darrel Dominick.”

Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Steve Kouplen praised Dominick’s leadership. “I have been impressed with Darrel’s efforts to ensure that Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers participate fully in the conservation programs of the 2002 Farm Bill,” Kouplen said. “I believe it’s a travesty to transfer Darrel out of Oklahoma,” he added.

"I am surprised and shocked by this action," Oklahoma Farmers Union President & CEO Ray L. Wulf said. "It is a severe loss to the state of Oklahoma and all of us who consider ourselves conservationists. Oklahoma Farmers Union has worked closely with many State Conservationists over the years and Darrel Dominick is, by far, one of the best at meeting the needs of natural resources for our state."

"We have worked with Mr. Dominick on several occasions,” said Mike Fuhr, state director of the Nature Conservancy of Oklahoma, “and have always been pleased by his open-minded approach to new ideas and his willingness to develop partnerships, all aimed at conservation of Oklahoma's natural resources. The types of partnerships that have been forged, especially those that have brought together a whole suite of diverse groups, are the key to future conservation initiatives and will benefit the state in the long run."

The next step for the Conservation Commission and the Oklahoma Association of Conservation
Districts is to take up the issue with U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Mike Johanns and the Oklahoma
Congressional delegation. According to Mike Thralls, executive director of the Conservation
Commission “the Oklahoma conservation community does not intend to let Undersecretary
Rey’s decision go unchallenged. Mr. Dominick has been recognized for exemplary leadership and performance throughout his career. To have Mr. Dominick’s reputation tarnished by an act of retribution by a political appointee is not right.” Dan Lowrance indicated that his association would continue to pursue through Sec. Johanns’ office the need for accountability of technical assistance funds appropriated by Congress to deliver the conservation provisions of the Farm Bill. “This issue is not going away until we get answers” Lowrance said.