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Published April 14, 2009, 12:02 AM

New conservationist takes helm at NRCS

WORTHINGTON — Nobles County’s new Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist has returned to her southwest Minnesota roots.

By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — Nobles County’s new Natural Resources Conservation Service District Conservationist has returned to her southwest Minnesota roots.

Stephanie McLain grew up on a dairy farm outside of Leota and graduated from Southwest Christian High School in Edgerton. For the past six years she has worked with the NRCS, first as a soil conservationist with the federal conservation agency in Newport, Vt., before returning to the Midwest for NRCS posts in Watertown, S.D., and St. Peter.

When the district conservationist position became available in Nobles County last October, McLain was six months pregnant and looking for an opportunity to move closer to her and husband Jeff’s roots. Jeff is a native of Chandler.

“We wanted to move down here to be closer to our family now that we have our first child,” McLain said. Daughter Samantha was born in late December.

After her maternity leave, McLain returned to work in a new office in a new community. She has been in the Nobles County NRCS office for a month.

“I always saw myself looking at more of a long-term type career option in the southwestern part of the state,” said McLain, who graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall with a degree in environmental science and a minor in agronomy.

“I really wanted to have some type of grassroots position (where I was) able to help the land and help the people be stewards,” she said.

In her first job after college, McLain worked for the Redwood-Cottonwood Rivers Control Area (RCRCA) in Redwood Falls doing outreach and conservation projects. While there, she began looking for options to work with the federal government, and that’s what led to her move to Vermont.

As a soil conservationist there, McLain said she was basically a district conservationist in training.

“You’re learning all the programs and assisting the district conservationist in implementing the conservation programs in the county,” she added.

Since starting her position in Worthington, McLain said she has noticed the “awesome partnerships” in the county between NRCS, the Soil and Water Conservation District and the three local watershed districts — Kanaranzi-Little Rock, Heron Lake and Okabena-Ocheda.

“Nobles County has a lot of different grassroots organizations,” McLain said.

Among her goals with the agency are to increase some of the outreach NRCS can do within the county to implement conservation practices, and to continue working with students in the classroom through various projects.

These days, the NRCS is waiting on federal funding for a couple of major programs within Nobles County. Since the passage of the new Farm Bill, McLain said Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding has been on hold until all of the necessary hearings can be completed.

“Farmers have been asking us for months now when we’re going to have funding,” she said. “We have been eagerly waiting for funding much like the landowners have.”

Coming down the pike soon is $200,000 in PL-566 funds, which will be available to landowners living within the Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed District. The money, approved in the recent economic stimulus package, may be used for implementation of conservation practices — much like those in EQIP. McLain said the PL-566 dollars are available on a 65 percent cost-share to landowners, which compares to the 50 percent available through EQIP.

“We’re hoping to get a lot of interest out there in those townships so we can prove there is a need for those funds,” said McLain, adding that the PL-566 funds must be spent within 18 months or else will go back to the federal government.