ECCD discusses several agenda items at meeting

Yelena Kisler
Staff Writer

The Elk County Conservation District discussed, plans for Ag Literacy Week, hiring a new employee, putting out a bid request for an engineer, and worked quickly through their other agenda items at the Board's monthly meeting yesterday in St. Marys.
Though the District doesn't have any public events planned for March, they are partnering with the PA Farm Bureau for National Ag Literacy Week, held March 18-22. Volunteers from the Farm Bureau and Conservation District will go out to local elementary schools to read them a book about the importance of farming. The program is for students in Kindergarten through second grade, and thanks to the efforts of volunteers, all the schools in Elk County have been signed up for the event.
"It's a nationwide program and basically we go into the schools, Ag Literacy Week, the folks that run that actually choose a book every year, they develop a lesson plan, there's an activity. And then each kid gets a little token thing," said Resource Conservation Technician Kate Wehler. "We read the story to them, talk to them about agriculture about farming, and then we play a game." This year's book will be "Right This Very Minute" by Lisl H. Detlefsen.
She said they're also preparing for the Junior and Senior Envirothons, as well as other student-oriented programs.
Since the last meeting, the District's other Resource Conservation Technician Kelsey Kilhoffer resigned from her position. After some discussion at the meeting, the Board, at the suggestion of District Manager Steve Putt, decided to amend the scope of the position to have the new hire primarily focus on permitting for Chapter 102 (erosion and sediment control) and Chapter 105 (general) permits, with Kate Wehler continuing with the Dirt and Gravel Road Programs and taking on the responsibilities of the Agricultural Technician. This would mean getting rid of the in-house Nutrient Management Program currently available through the District.
"It costs quite a bit of money to train people to do that and we don't have any concentration [of large farms] even in Elk County that we need anybody to do that," said Chairman Russ Braun in presenting the idea to the Board. "But we still need someone here to work with the agricultural community."
Members of the board discussed how the District would be able to continue aiding local farmers without someone in-house certified to write up the plans needed for Nutrient Management Programs. Wehler would still be available to local farmers to help them connect with NCRS to get started on a nutrient management program. The District has agreements with both Jefferson and McKean counties, both of which have a staff person authorized to write plans for those programs, and therefore still have the resources to set local farmers up with those programs.
"According to the state we only have a quarter of a position anyways," said Putt. "So we don't get the full amount of funding that a district would receive through the Nutrient Management Program. So we only get a quarter of the funding."
"And that barely pays the training," added Farmer Director Ray McMinn.
Board members discussed the details of the change and the scope of the new position before making their final decision. As the district does not have farms that necessitate the position, and local farmers will still have a point of contact for the program, the Board agreed unanimously to advertise for a full-time resource conservation technician whose focus will be primarily on permitting.
For more on this story, see today's publication of the Ridgway Record. (Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.)