Kick start to a career

By: Rhyan Schiker

My apprenticeship with the Lac qui Parle SWCD has transformed to fit many different roles over the past six months. What started as a three-month summer apprenticeship has extended to a six-month term and has now fledged into a full-term position as a Resource Technician and Water Specialist for the county.

My intentions when taking on the apprentice role was to learn as much as I could and then take that knowledge with me when I moved on to my next job, most likely out of state. Over the past half of a year I have learned more than I could attempt to condense into just a few pages but would like to highlight the moments that spiked my desires to stay and work in southwestern Minnesota.

Throughout the summer and fall I have attended many workshops and trainings, each one building a deeper understanding of the state's conservation goals as well as barriers and ways to overcome them. With each subsequent training I felt the pieces coming together. I began to feel more comfortable with the agricultural setting and various conservation practices we perform here at the SWCD.

Trainings and workshops attended:

Fall 2017

●     AIS workshop at Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC)

●     Environmental fair: Groundwater model presentation

●     Community Based Social Marketing (2 days)

●     BWSR Academy: Maximizing Conservation through Collaboration, Basic Hydrology for Conservation Practices

Summer 2017

●     Native Prairie plant ID (2 days)

●     Effects of grazing and burning on Prairies

●     Prairie Reconstruction field day: Planting and managing for diverse prairie reconstruction

●     Soil and water management field day

●     Soil Health field day-no till practices

●     Strip till for field crop production Expo

This aspect of the job means very much to me, as building upon my education is a goal no matter what I task am doing. Being new to this area gave a lot of opportunity for learning and combining the new position with all the educational workshops and trainings made a huge difference in my comprehension of local landscape dynamics and confidence working with them. At the environmental fair I even got to step outside my comfort zone and present the groundwater model to local fifth and sixth graders. They really liked seeing how the dye , that represented pollution, moved through the model and water was pumped through the system.

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The two most impactful trainings I attended, although it is hard to choose, would be the Soil Health Field Day and Community Based Social Marketing introductory workshop.

The soil health field day offered presentations emphasizing the dire need to protect your soils as they are the building blocks and life line of all vegetative life, which in turn supports us as humans. We discussed no till and cover crop benefits and heard from members on all ends of the spectrum; producers from small farms, soil scientists, students, and those who practice both no till and conventional tilling methods. This workshop gave me not only an understanding of different processes but also opposing views. It’s easy to think that just because a practice is sustainable that it should be implemented immediately. We also got to observe a rainfall simulator demonstration showing infiltration among different types of soils, no-till, conventional till and with or without cover crops and grazing. It was pretty amazing to see the differences in the way water ran off those field types and how much soil it took with it.  This workshop let me observe the different barriers such as costs associated with risk, crop insurance, equipment types and reasons why producers may feel hesitant about switching to no till, crop rotation or cover crop practices.

Rainfall simulator example, jars in front collect water runoff and jars underneath collect infiltration

Rainfall simulator example, jars in front collect water runoff and jars underneath collect infiltration

The Community Based Social Marketing class was designed to help foster sustainable behaviors through a five-step process. Previously information intensive campaigns were believed to be most effective in changing individuals behaviors. This has been found to actually be highly ineffective. Through this two-day class we learned different approaches to working with the public to adopt and implement practices that will help stop the spread of aquatic invasive species throughout the state. It was extremely interesting and has huge potential, it was a very worthwhile two days and I plan to use what we learned during the course over a wide range of conservation topics outside of AIS.

Overall, I believe there is a lot of work that can be done in this area to switch some of the current practices to more sustainable, conservation based options. One of the bigger challenges is getting more folks on board to try them out, and then hopefully through social diffusion others will follow suit. I look forward to being a part of this work and hope to make positive changes to our local environment, which can lead to large scale implications. I am very thankful for the opportunity given to me from the Corps, through this apprenticeship, to kick start this next chapter in my life.

How to work

By: Kellie Lager

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When I joined Conservation Corps as an AmeriCorps member, I had no idea what I was doing with my life. I was 24, living with my parents and had a vague sense that I wanted my job to “mean” something. Looking back, I was laughingly naïve and idealistic.

What the Corps truly taught me was how to work. And I do mean work in all senses of the word. The Corps taught me the value of getting my hands dirty, most days whether I liked it or not. It taught me how to work with people I loved and people I hated (and that sometimes that can be the same person). It taught me to consider that my way might not be the only right way, that “giving back” to the community doesn’t mean anything if you don’t listen to the community members’ needs and wants, that every tough break forces you to learn new skills.

My career since the Corps hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. I’ve struggled, I’ve switched jobs, I’ve still wondered what I was doing with my life. But the reason I work for the Corps, the reason I watched staff job postings like a hawk, is because I knew the Corps was someplace that valued what I had grown to want for my life and career: authenticity, a willingness to admit you don’t have all the answers and a desire to make a difference. And, above it all, hard work.


Support our participants in their search for future success! Donate to the Corps on Give to the Max Day!

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Hidden Value in Education Awards

By: Kellie Lager, Recruitment Manager

Double the amount you pay on your loans this year! Many new members worry that not securing a full-time job right out of college will put them behind on their student loans, but serving in AmeriCorps actually puts you ahead! Joining the Conservation Corps gives you the opportunity to better your community, learn valuable job skills, network with potential future employers, and earn an education award that is more than twice average student loan payments. And if you put your loans in forbearance during your service term, you won’t even have to pay the interest on them!

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To learn more, visit the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award website. To apply for full-term Conservation Corps positions, visit our application page!

Fall into hibernation

By: Tamara Beal

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Fall is officially in full swing! And that means it is migration season for many animals ranging from the smallest of insects, to birds of every size and color and especially our main attraction…bats!

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Over the last month, many changes in the bat project have occurred. Mist netting finished up with another handful of Northern Long Eared bats being radio tagged. And lucky for us, we were able to catch a species that had thus far alluded us, the tri-colored bat (right)!

Alongside daytime ground tracking, Copperhead biologists have been up in the airplane checking where the radio tagged bats’ nightly wanderings take them. Sometimes the bats would not move at all, whereas other times the plane might find them miles from where they were caught the night before. Below are some views of Iowa from the cockpit!

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In preparation for migration season, we switched over from mostly night work with Copperhead Consulting, to some daytime work days with Josh Otten, a biologist from Stantec. Last winter, the Department of Natural Resources decided to try a new technique to determine where Northern Long Eared bats were hibernating. Conservation canines is a organization that specifically trains dogs for conservation related tasks. In a similar fashion that a police dog is trained to track down criminals by scent, dogs can also be trained on the scent of specific animals. In this picture, a Conservation canine, Lily, can be seen sniffing at a particular rock outcropping, identifying it as a likely hibernation roost for Northern Long Eared bats.

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Based on the locations that Lily and other Conservation dogs identified, Josh picked hibernaculum at four parks to put up thermal and infrared cameras. Each park began with two full set-ups which included two thermal cameras, two infrared cameras, two infrared lights, two camera stands, two screens for the infrared cameras, two raspberry pis (data storage), two 35 pound batteries, two plastic tubes to protect the wires, and finally two big tubs to keep everything waterproof (left). All of that totaling over 200 pounds of equipment and over $10,000 per site. 

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But figuring out what equipment was needed for each site was only the beginning of the adventure. The real fun was getting all the gear to these sometimes remote hibernaculum sites. All of the “Bats and Bucks” crew can be seen to the right struggling to cross the Iowa River on the way to investigate one of our first hibernacula camera set-ups. With some of the walks into these sites being over a mile on uneven terrain, we are lucky to be working in such beautiful locations.

Pictured to the left is a closer look at the controlled chaos that is required for one of these camera set-ups. The picture in the center gives an example of one of our thermal and infrared camera systems once it is all set-up. And pictured to the right is an example of a rock face the cameras are trained on, believed to be a long eared bat hibernacula.

A few nights, we even got to test out what the cameras were seeing by wearing night vision goggles. For an hour we would scan a rock face hoping to catch a bat emerging from between splits in the rock (Inga- left). The goggles were not exactly comfortable to wear with straps around each side of the head, but being able to see in the dark was worth the discomfort (center). While conducting the emergence count, we also used an Echo Meter app to identify the bat calls in the area and determine if any happened to be Northern Long Eared (right).

No field work would be complete without unexpected wildlife lessons! Lucky for the four of us, Josh knows a great deal about snakes and gave us a lesson on any snakes we came across. Some of these included an adult black rat snake (left), a timber rattle snake (center), and a young of the year black rat snake (Tamara- right).

Last week we said good bye to our Copperhead friends as their part of the project had come to a close. Although we are still doing a small bit of day tracking, most of our time is taken up by changing batteries at the four hibernaculum sites. The newest development for our work, however, is beginning the data analysis of the footage recorded at these sites, manually scanning for any signs of life; bat or otherwise. Stay tuned for an update on the results of the thermal camera video recordings and the initiation of our work with white tailed deer and chronic wasting disease in mid-November.

Amy looking fierce and victorious with a yeti battery in front of a grand maple tree.

Amy looking fierce and victorious with a yeti battery in front of a grand maple tree.