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TMC: Spring 2024

2024 Montana Soil Health Symposium

Three Days of Learning

Searching For Screech Owls

How Citizens Are Making a Difference

New Places, New Faces

One Girl’s Journey Across the Country

Montana's First Soil Health Week

Planting the Seed: Montana’s First Step in Soil Health Awareness

MACD Scholarship Awards

Meet the 2 recipients for the 2024 MACD Scholarship

Upcoming Events

A Few Snapshots of Some Upcoming Events

District Newsletters

Newsletters from Districts Across the Montana

2024 Soil Health Symposium

Three Days of Learning

Solomon Garza

Big Sky Watershed Corps Member (BSWC)

Montana Association of Conservation Districts (MACD)

The official Montana 2024 recap video.

Video by MACD and created by BSWC Member Solomon Garza

Over 400 people attended the Montana Soil Health Symposium in Billings, hosted by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Montana Association of Conservation Districts. The event featured more than 18 speakers, covering a broad spectrum of topics, including intercropping, soil health principles, composting, winter grazing, and more.

The annual Soil Health Symposium is a three-day event held in Montana, bringing together local agricultural producers, NRCS employees, gardeners, ranchers, conservation districts, and the general public to learn about the latest practices in soil health. The event spans three days, featuring a pre-conference workshop and a two day main event. There are two keynote speakers per day and the option to attend breakout sessions on selected topics. Throughout the event, attendees have the opportunity to visit various booths from sponsors, where they can learn about local businesses, non-profits, and government organizations. Meals are provided each day, along with a special social hour at the end of the first day. This year, there was also a Montana producers breakfast on the last morning of the symposium.

Symposium Breakdown

Day One: Pre Conference Workshop

The Soil Health Symposium commenced with a pre-conference workshop held from 12:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The featured workshop was titled “Holistic Management: How We Went From Feeling Trapped to Finding Freedom,” facilitated by Joshua and Tara Dukart. Hailing from North Dakota, the Dukarts are stewards of Seek First Ranch, a third-generation holistic ranch where they raise grass-fed beef and hair sheep in harmony with the natural environment. This pre-conference workshop was about how holistic management offers a decision making framework deeply rooted in ecosystem processes. It also explained a suite of planning procedures encompassing planned grazing, land planning, financial planning, and ecological monitoring.

The Dukarts presenting at the Pre Conference Workshop on the first day of the symposium.

Day Two: The First Full Day

Day 2 marked the beginning of the full event, starting promptly at 8:00 am with registration. Attendees were directed to the large meeting room where breakfast was served. While enjoying their meal, they had the opportunity to listen to the first keynote speaker of the day, Jonathan Lundgren.

Dr. Lundgren delivered a presentation titled “An Overview of the 1000 Farms Research in Montana.” This breakfast keynote presentation focused on what he described as “the most ambitious agroecology experiment ever conducted.” Dr. Lundgren elaborated on his initiative, which aims to provide insight on the impacts of regenerative agriculture systems compared to traditional practices.

After a 30-minute break, attendees dispersed to the first round of breakout sessions. The morning offered four sessions: “Virtual Fencing for Pasture Management” by Leo Barthelmess and Megan and Ryan Green, “Winter Grazing” by Cooper Hibbard, “Intercropping and Flour Milling” by Derek Axten, and “Using Soil Health Principles as Offensive Management Tools” by Mitchell Hora. Following the breakout sessions, attendees ate lunch while listening to a keynote presentation by Anne Biklé titled “What Your Food Eats and Why It Matters,” which discussed the connection between soil health and human health.

After lunch and the keynote session, attendees proceeded to the last round of breakout sessions for the day. The afternoon sessions included “Geothermal Greenhouses and Community Agriculture” by Todd Barkley, “Making Your Own Compost Extract for Large Scale Acreages” by Larry Johnson, Shawn Preputin, and Alec McIntosh, “Red Solo Cup Cow” by Steve Campbell, and “Optimizing Plant Nutrition with Foliar Feeding.” 

Maia Schweikert, an attendee from Madison Valley CD, participated in the session on “Red Solo Cup Cow” by Steve Campbell. She remarked, “As someone who is admittedly new to the world of ranching, I was amazed by all of the physical attributes that can be considered when determining the health and resilience of a cow. The presenter, Steve Campbell, made the session fun and informative, even beginning the talk with a tribute to Toby Keith’s ‘Red Solo Cup.'” Following the breakout sessions, the day concluded with snacks and a reception. The reception featured a special drink hour where attendees networked and engaged in informal conversations, closing the day with a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

This is a group of attendees listening intently to one of the speakers during a breakout session.

Day Three: Final Symposium Day

Day 3 began with a special treat: a Montana locally produced breakfast sourced from farms across the state. Attendees enjoyed a meal that showcased the region’s agricultural diversity and commitment to local produce. Following the Local Montana Producers Breakfast, attendees participated in the last round of breakout sessions, which included topics such as “Working with the Hidden Half of Nature” by Anne Biklé, “Minerals, Toxins, and Epigenetics” by Steve Campbell, “An In-Depth Look at the 1000 Farms Research in Montana” by Jonathan Lundgren, and “LEGOs, Legacy, and Leadership” by Joshua and Tara Dukart.

After a brief break, the group reconvened in the main room for the final keynote presentation. Titled “Modeling Regenerative Partnership to Promote Soil Health” by Kelsey Scott, this presentation provided valuable insights into how the act of regeneration in soil health demands partnerships built on reciprocity, transparency, and values-aligned leadership. Following Kelsey Scott’s presentation, all the other keynote speakers were also invited on stage for a Q&A session with the audience. After the Q&A the 2024 Montana Soil Health Symposium came to an end. 

Overall, the feedback we received indicates that the event was a massive success. Attendees left having learned something new and were eager for the next Soil Health Symposium. Below is a recap video of the 2024 Soil Health Symposium, showcasing some of the images and videos from the event.

This is the key note speaker panel at the end of the symposium.

It Takes a Village

I had the pleasure of working behind the scenes at the 2024 Montana Soil Health Symposium and experiencing firsthand what it takes to organize an event of this magnitude. As a member of the Big Sky Watershed Corps, I was eager to contribute in any way possible. Thus, I eagerly immersed myself in the chaos of planning this event.

I began by being tasked with creating signage for the event due to my background in creative work. Immediately, I set about crafting welcome signs, room signs, a special feature sign for Gabe Brown, and the breakfast menu for a special local producer’s breakfast. Once I completed these tasks, I eagerly handed them over to my coworker, Madi Larson, the event coordinator. Her response, “Great, I will get them to the committee,” was the moment I realized the scale of this event.

Some of the sponsor booths that attended the symposium this year.

Some the posters that were featured at the event.

Reflections

A week later, I found myself on a Zoom call, listening to the committee discuss every potential problem that might occur at the event, which was still a month away. They expressed concerns about room capacity, fire escapes, seating arrangements, and various other details that often go unnoticed when attending a large event for enjoyment. During the meeting, they addressed my posters and quickly highlighted all the edits that needed to be made. Then moved on back to the logistics of planning the final details of the event.

Witnessing the dedication of the committee further fueled my desire to contribute to the event. Before I knew it, the event was just a week away, and I found myself spending every afternoon assembling folders with stickers and all the necessary handouts. The following Tuesday, I would be in Billings, preparing to set up the event they had been meticulously planning for months.

When I arrived, I was warmly greeted by the familiar faces I had seen over Zoom in the past month. Everyone was in good spirits, hustling to set up booths, tables, and liaising with convention center staff. I was assigned as the check-in attendant, faced with a list of over 400 attendees. I devised a strategy to ensure a smooth check-in for everyone. As the event progressed, I transitioned from the check-in desk to a help desk, taking the opportunity to capture some photos and videos of the bustling atmosphere. In the blink of an eye, months of planning culminated in an event that seemed to pass by as swiftly as it arrived.

Having witnessed the tremendous success of the 2024 Soil Health Symposium and receiving countless compliments from attendees while stationed at the help desk, I now understand why the committee was so meticulous in their planning. They invested an incredible amount of care into every detail to ensure that both attendees and speakers had the best possible experience. I am immensely grateful to the entire planning committee for orchestrating this remarkable event and allowing me to contribute to it. 

Marni Thompson, Montana NRCS Soil Health Specialist and member of the Planning Committee, shared her thoughts: “The NRCS has been doing soil health workshops around the state since 2011. In 2020, we ventured into the two-day Soil Health Symposium in Billings. We have sold out the event two out of the three years, with 420 people attending. It is so exciting to travel around the state and see the enthusiasm that producers have for improving their soil health. We showcase great examples of Montana producers who are making a difference at the symposium. We bring in keynote speakers from around the nation to further our education. The Soil Health Symposium is a fantastic educational event where you can network and learn how to apply soil health principles on your own property.” Without the hard work and dedication of the committee, I believe that this incredible event would not have been possible.r

After the convention, we gathered around the office table to debrief this year’s symposium with other MACD staff. We discussed the highs and lows, the challenges we faced, and the successes we achieved. Following that meeting, Madi exclaimed, “Great, I can’t wait to share this information with the committee next week so we can implement it into next year’s event.” The committee is actively working on the 2025 Soil Health Symposium and is already extending a warm invitation to join us at the convention next year. With the committee hard at work, I encourage you to consider attending the Soil Health Symposium next year and think about the village that it takes to make such an amazing event happen.

Solomon Garza is a Big Sky Watershed Corps member The Montana Association of Conservation Districts.

TMC Submissions: communications@macdnet.org

Searching For Screech Owls

How citizens are making a difference

profile image

Gwynne Rohde

Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) – Montana Audubon

Left: Image of an Eastern Screech Owl
Right: Image of a Western Screech Owl

Images Provided by Tyler Pockette

A Cause for Concern

As old growth forests and riparian areas are lost to human development, many treasured species face threats of habitat loss and population decline across Montana, including  Western and Eastern Screech Owls (fieldguide MT). This loss of habitat and lack of data classifies the two species as Potential Species of Concern in the state of Montana. The ”potential” aspect of the classification comes from the lack of recent data on the species, leading to an uncertainty of how the owls respond to the environmental changes around them (fieldguide MT). Along with the title of Potential Species of Concern, the Western Screech Owl is also a Species of Greatest Inventory Need, meaning that they lack baseline population information needed to assess the species conservation needs and status (MT SOC List). With efforts backed by our community of volunteers, we were able to take the next steps toward finding these owls.

This spring was the pilot year for Montana Audubon’s Western and Eastern Screech Owl Citizen Science Surveys, and volunteers have been driving all over Montana collecting population and location data on the Screech Owls of Montana. These two discrete nocturnal owls are found on their respective sides of the state, with converging ranges along the Missouri River. Since their ranges span across the state, citizen scientists from all around Montana were able to join this effort. To better understand their conservation needs, we should look at how these secretive species live and interact with the ecosystem around them.

Montana Audubon is an independent, statewide conservation organization whose mission is to promote appreciation, knowledge, and conservation of Montana’s native birds, other wildlife, and natural ecosystems and to safeguard biological diversity for current and future generations.

All About Screech Owls

Natural History and Ecology

Western and Eastern Screech Owls are nearly indistinguishable,  so differentiating between the two species can be difficult (fieldguide MT). The Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii, and the Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, both belong to the Megascops genus, which includes all 22 species of Screech Owls in North America (iNaturalist). Megascops comes from the latin roots mega, meaning “great or large”, and skops, meaning “an owl”, which is ironic considering Screech Owls are very small, with an average body size of 7-10 inches and wingspan of 18-24 inches (Audubon). The Western Screech Owls species name, kennicottii, is named after the naturalist who discovered them, Robert Kennicott (Wiki). The Eastern Screech Owls species name, asio, refers to the owls’ ear tufts, which both species have. Despite the name of “ear tufts” having nothing to do with the owl’s actual hearing, the ear tufts assist in the owl’s daytime camouflage. Screech Owls actual ears are located on the perimeter of the owl’s facial disk, with one ear located higher up than the other. This placement allows them to locate prey better when hunting, or helps them hear in “3D” (VT Museum). Western and Eastern Screech Owls are opportunistic and hunt by sound, with typical prey including rodents, birds, and insects (fieldguide MT).

Identification

Here in Montana both Western and Eastern Screech Owls are commonly gray or brown with dark “barres” or vertical streaks. Both species have the dark barring, but the dark streaks are closer together on Western Screech Owls, and further apart on Eastern Screech Owls. They also have slight differences in their beak color, where Eastern Screech Owls have lighter yellow-green beaks, and Western Screech Owls have darker brown-black beaks (AllAboutBirds). The most distinct difference between the two species is their vocalizations. Western Screech Owls song is an accelerating trill similar sounding to a bouncing ping-pong ball, and Eastern Screech Owls have a  bouncing descending whinny (AllAboutBirds).

Habitat and Range

Camouflage to blend in with the trees, both Eastern and Western Screech Owls are cavity nesters, depending on natural cavities formed by Northern Flickers and woodpeckers in old growth Cottonwood, Alder, or Conifer trees near riparian areas (AllAboutBirds). Screech Owls have also been found to utilize nest boxes in suburban and agricultural areas. In the state of Montana, Western Screech Owls have been observed as far east as Bozeman and Chouteau, and Eastern Screech Owls have been observed as far west as Glacier National Park  and Great Falls (eBird). To see the range map from MT field guide click here.

2024 Survey

Survey Background

Our survey builds off the work of the 2014 Winter Breeding Owls Survey done by Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and methods are based on Inventory Methods for Owl Surveys by Doris Hausleitner, and Guidelines For Nocturnal Owl Monitoring in North America by D. Lisa Takats et al. The statewide survey focused on twelve owl species listed on the Species of Greatest Inventory Need List in Montana, aiming to gather a baseline assessment of these species. A decade later, no further monitoring has been conducted and four species remain on this list: Boreal Owl, Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Western Screech Owl. We chose to focus on Western and Eastern Screech Owls for this survey due to their similar habitat requirements and their separate ranges across the state.

Citizen Science

So what is citizen science? To put it simply, scientists work with the public to gather more high quality data across a larger area, while getting people involved with conservation and scientific issues in their own backyards (Nature, Fraisl et al.). For this project specifically, this survey collects observational data spanning much more of Montana than we could ever survey on our own. This data then goes to the Montana Natural Heritage Program’s database, and will contribute to population and location data that helps to assess the conservation needs and status of our target species. Our citizen scientists were so dedicated to this effort, they went out in the middle of the night to conduct their surveys of these nocturnal birds. The survey window aligned with the breeding season for these owls, meaning that they are more vocal, so a “playback call” or a recording of Screech Owl songs and calls were played at each of the ten stations to evoke a vocal response from any nearby owls defending their territory or responding to a potential mate.

Outcomes

In the first year, we’ve had volunteers survey 25 sites, with over 50 individuals participating  in the project. Hearing from volunteers, there have been observations of Great Horned Owls, Northern Saw Whet Owls, Western Screech Owls, among other species. All of these observations will go into the Montana Natural Heritage Program’s database, and will contribute to the population data and conservation of the species.

You Can Make A Difference

Are you interested in answering some of the biggest questions in wildlife conservation?  If so, Citizen Science might be just the thing for you. Participation from volunteers allows for more valuable data to be collected, and in this case covers greater amounts of land that we would not be able to travel to on our own. With this additional data, scientists and the broader conservation community can assess the needs and statuses of significant species with higher levels of accuracy, leading to more beneficial and informed decisions for wildlife.  Citizen science doesn’t only apply to wildlife, you could find yourself working on hydrology, astronomy, or meteorology. If you’re interested in finding what’s out there, take a look at citizenscience.gov. If you’re interested in the conservation of Montana’s birds, join the app eBird to track your everyday bird observations, and visit montanabirdsurveys.com for more information on ongoing and upcoming citizen science projects including our Long-billed Curlew Surveys, Chimney Swift Surveys, and Climate Watch. For more information on Montana Audubon, visit mtaudubon.org.

Gwynne Rodhe is a Big Sky Watershed Corps member for Montana Audubon.

TMC Submissions: communications@macdnet.org

New Places, New Faces

One Girl's Journey Across the Country

Aleda Miller

Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC)

Ruby Valley Conservation District

Aleda traveled 1500 mile from Michigan to her current location in Montana.

As a born-and-raised midwesterner, I’ve been fascinated with the American West from my earliest memories. I have been on multiple short trips to the region, but they were fleeting and sparse. So naturally, when I saw a job posting based out of Montana sent out in a college student group, I jumped at the opportunity. I graduated from Northern Michigan University in December of 2023 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and Sustainability; my education has allowed me to bring unique perspectives into this new journey of learning post-college.

Montana was a state I had dreamed of seeing with my own eyes, and the Montana Conservation Corps made that possible by placing me in a rural community with the Ruby Valley Conservation District. The simplicity of rural life has not been without some surprises – I grew up in the metro-Detroit area in Southeast Michigan, about an hour north of the infamous Motor City. While the town that I grew up in was small, I didn’t realize how many comforts were at my disposal there in comparison to my current home in Sheridan. I’m sure some would gawk at the thought of living in a town with a population of less than a thousand people, but it has been a welcome change to the hustle of “city” life. 

I have met so many wonderful characters in the community, explored the Tobacco Root Mountains that are my backyard, and learned so much about conservation and restoration work that I thought my head would explode. And it’s only been a few months of living here!

Ruby Valley Conservation District is one of 58 conservation districts located all throughout Montana.

Conservation Districts emerged from the ‘Dust Bowl’ days as a way to address the condition of our natural resources. The US Congress declared soil and water conservation to be national policy in 1935, and now there are almost 3000 conservation districts nationwide, tackling a wide variety of natural resource issues. Entrusted by the state, CDs are responsible for implementing the 310 Law, water reservations, stream access portage routes, county planning board participation, and local Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) consultation. CDs serve as the local point of contact for numerous federal programs. In addition to the aforementioned responsibilities, CDs educate landowners, provide tree plantings, and organize outdoor classroom educational activities for school students.

The Ruby Valley Conservation District has many ongoing projects, two of which are Carcass Composting and the Pollinator Initiative. The Carcass Composting program aims to reduce the presence of carcasses on ranches, which attracts large predators such as wolves, bears, and mountain lions. Historically, producers have removed carcasses by piling them in pits, burying them, hauling them to the local dump, and even blowing them up. These methods have led to increased livestock-predator conflicts, and this can also have negative effects on ground and surface water quality. Carcass composting provides an alternative that mitigates those conflicts. The carcass composting service is free and confidential for livestock loss, to schedule a pick-up, contact us at info@rvcd.org or (406 842-5741 x 101. More information can be found at rvcd.org/carcass-composting/.

Aleda next to the RVCD carcass composting site.

The goal of the RVCD Pollinator Initiative is to educate the public and provide resources for strengthening and reinforcing the local pollinator population. We operate two pollinator gardens and have free resources available online and at our office. Swing by to pick up your FREE pollinator seed mixes, and ask us about our planting guide! We have Southwest Montana Mix, Conservation Mix, and Backyard Mix available in various amounts already packaged for your convenience. Go to rvcd.org/pollinator-initiative/ to learn more.

The Ruby Valley CD has many other projects happening now, as well as events coming up that you will not want to miss. Go to the RVCD’s website, rvcd.org, to learn about our upcoming events and ongoing projects!

Left– Information about the Ruby Valley Conservation District Pollinator Initiative.

Right– All the seeds packed and prepared for a seed giveaway. 

Images of Aleada learning to fly fish and take part of some of the local Montana culture

The Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC) program is partnered with the Montana Conservation Corps, Montana Watershed Coordination Council, and Montana Association of Conservation Districts. BSWC members are placed with a “host site” – this year, the cohort is made up of about 40 members, and we are dispersed throughout Montana, serving in communities until November. I have been placed in Sheridan, MT with the Ruby Valley Conservation District. During my term of service, I will be coordinating various education and outreach events, helping out with ongoing projects, and volunteering locally. I am overwhelmingly grateful for this opportunity, and I look forward to what the rest of this year has in store!

Before college, I considered pursuing journalism because of my love for writing and sharing stories. Little did I know that by serving with the Big Sky Watershed Corps program I would be able to live out that passion, if only for a little while. Writing the RVCD monthly newsletter and articles for the Natural Resource News section in The Madisonian newspaper has opened up doors for some bizarre opportunities, such as writing this article for the Montana Conservationist Magazine. It’s a creative outlet for me to be able to share stories with others while learning what there is to see, do, and be wary of during my time in Big Sky Country. I am looking forward to the rest of my term of service with the Big Sky Watershed Corps program and to experiencing the Montana summers that everyone has been telling me about.

Here are all the articles Aleda has written this past year for the Madisonian Newspaper 

Aleda Miller is a Big Sky WatershedCorps member with  the Ruby Valley Conservation District

TMC Submissions: communications@macdnet.org

Montana's First Soil Health Week

Planting the Seed: Montana's first step in soil health awareness

Solomon Garza

Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC)

Montana Association of Conservation Districts (MACD)

This is an image from the official Soil Health Page by MACD. Soil health week was from April 1- April 6 2024.

On May 12, 2023, a new resolution was signed into law designating the first week of April as Montana Soil Health Week and the first Wednesday of April as Soil Health Day. This marks a significant achievement for the people of Montana, particularly those in the agriculture and conservation sectors. Soil Health Week is a week-long celebration aimed at raising awareness, increasing crop yields, strengthening food security, enhancing climate resilience, improving nutrition, and, most importantly, educating everyone about the importance of soil health. You can read the Governor’s Proclamation below. 

What’s So Important About Soil?

On February 26th, 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote in a letter to all state governments, ‘A nation that destroys its soil is a nation that destroys itself.’ His words ring true, emphasizing the critical importance of effective soil management. Soil is the foundation of life, supporting agriculture, sustaining ecosystems, and providing vital resources for human survival. But what exactly is soil, and why is it so crucial to our well-being? And why does it get its own week in Montana?

Soil Science Society of America defines soil as a complex mixture of minerals, water, air, organic matter, and countless decaying organisms. It forms the surface of the land and is vital for supporting plant life. Without healthy soil, life as we know it would be unsustainable. Soil plays a multitude of crucial roles, including serving as a medium for the growth of all plants, modifying the atmosphere by emitting and absorbing gasses and dust, providing habitats for animals, bacteria, and fungi, processing recycled nutrients for reuse by other organisms, absorbing, holding, and releasing water in terrestrial systems, and acting as a living filter to clean water before it moves to an aquifer. For more information on this click here.

Soil health is essential here in Montana; without it life would be significantly impacted. According to the Montana Land Trusts, agriculture is Montana’s number one industry, a $5 billion sector responsible for over 30,000 jobs. Montana’s approximately 27,000 farms and ranches, spanning 58 million acres, produce food to feed not only Montana but also America and the world. For more information on this click here.

The passing of this resolution is monumental, highlighting the importance of agriculture in Montana and providing opportunities to celebrate our agriculture workers. Without healthy soil, there is no agriculture; without agriculture, there is no Montana. Therefore, we must utilize this week to spread the word about healthy soil and sow the seeds for the next generation to appreciate agriculture and learn the principles of soil health. Now that we understand what soil is and why it is so vital, let’s explore how we celebrated Soil Health Week around the state!

Official festival selection poster of the film, To which We Belong. To Which We Belong  is a documentary that highlights farmers and ranchers leaving behind conventional practices that are no longer profitable or sustainable.

The Week Long Celebration

All across Montana there were numerous examples of how soil health was implemented and celebrated. Northern Plains Resources, for instance, kicked off the celebration of Soil Health Day by hosting a free virtual film screening of the documentary ‘To Which We Belong.’ This award-winning film highlights farmers and ranchers working to renew the earth through simple yet profound practices, sharing stories from agricultural producers worldwide, including some from our own backyard. Additionally, a multitude of organizations, ranging from non-profits to state agencies, offered opportunities for involvement in the celebration of Soil Health Week through weekly email updates and occasionally in some special stylized emails.

MACD also spearheaded the first ever Soil Health Education Week event during Montana’s Soil Health Week. Solomon Garza, a member of the Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC), took the lead in organizing this free educational event, which focused on soil health concepts geared towards youth. Held at the Lewis and Clark Public Library in Helena, the event was a resounding success, drawing enthusiastic participation from the young residents of Helena. With the assistance of other AmeriCorps members, a total of three activities were held, engaging and educating the youth about the importance of soil health.

The three activities organized were ‘Healthy Soil in a Cup,’ ‘Earth’s Canvas: Soil Health Drawing Zone,’ and ‘Sow and Grow: A Soil Health Workshop.’ These events successfully educated approximately 20 young children, providing them with valuable knowledge before the conclusion of spring break for many Helena students.

The Healthy Soil in a Cup event showcased the concept of soil horizons or soil layers in a fun and delicious manner. Participants received a brief introduction to soil and its composition, focusing on soil horizons. They were then tasked with creating their own version of soil horizons using sweet treats. Pudding cups served as the base, with smashed up brownies representing rocks, sprinkles portraying microorganisms, crushed graham crackers depicting rock layers, and gummy worms simulating aeration. Led by AgCorps Member Philippe Navarro and BSWC member Solomon Garza, this event captivated everyone’s attention at the library.

The Sow and Grow: Soil Health Workshop was an event designed to provide participants with a tangible experience of Soil Health Week. This workshop gave the participating children the opportunity to get their hands dirty and plant their own seeds in soil, showcasing the power of soil in nurturing plant growth. The participants were invited to choose a native plant or flower to grow and then proceeded to plant their selection in a biodegradable cup. Throughout the activity, they received information on how soil provides plants with the necessary nutrients for healthy growth. Led by Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Americorps member Ellie Brown and Ag Corps member Chloe Perel, this workshop provided a hands-on learning experience for all involved.

Earth’s Canvas was an event where youth could engage in traditional paper activities such as coloring, word searches, and crosswords. Led by BSWC Member Gwynne Rohde and Ag Corps member Quinn P. Sullivan, this activity provided a relaxed atmosphere for participants to unwind after engaging in other activities. It served as a platform to reinforce the message about soil health. As participants immersed themselves in the activities, they became more curious about soil health and began asking questions. Additionally, participants were able to take home coloring sheets and word puzzle sheets containing relevant information about soil health, further reinforcing their understanding of the topic.

This is one of the resources that MACD sent out during soil health week. Every day of Soil Health week MACD sent out lots of education content like this.

The event posters made by BSWC member Solomon Garza

AG corps member Phillipe Navarro showing off his demonstration of the healthy soil in a cup.

FWP AmeriCorps Member Ellie Brown sitting at her freshly set up event table

Big Sky Watershed Member Gwynne Rohde sitting at her freshly prepared activity table 5 minutes before the event begins.

How You Can Get Involved

The Outreach Team of the MACD Education Work Group has been diligently collecting and creating resources to facilitate participation in Soil Health Week, which takes place during the first week of April. We have amassed educational materials for soil health-related events, pre-made social media packs, and a wealth of informative videos. We encourage you to explore these resources and get involved! If you have any additional contributions or suggestions, please email them to communications@macdnet.org, and we will ensure they are shared online. To help districts, partner organizations, and individuals participate, we created a new website for the event:https://montanasoilhealthweek.macdnet.org/

This year’s Soil Health Week marked a strong beginning to what we hope will be a lifelong celebration of soil. As we reflect on the success of this year’s events, we look forward to seeing even greater participation from individuals and districts in the coming years. We invite all readers and districts to join us in this celebration and start planning fun events for your community next year. Together, let’s continue to raise awareness and promote the importance of soil health for generations to come.

Solomon Garza is a Big Sky Water Corps member with the Montana Association of Conservation Districts.

TMC Submissions: communications@macdnet.org

MACD Scholarships

Meet the Two Recipients for the 2024 MACD Scholarship

Solomon Garza

Big Sky Watershed Corps (BSWC)

Montana Association of Conservation Districts (MACD)

Madeline Larson

Montana Association of Conservation Districts (MACD)

Each year the Montana Association of Conservation Districts gives out two 1,000 dollar scholarships to high school seniors or students studying at an accredited post-secondary institution in Montana. MACD tries to give back to the community by supporting the future generation of students pursuing higher education in the natural resource  related fields.

This year over 49 people applied for the MACD scholarship. After hours of sorting and sifting through applications the MACD Scholarship Committee finally selected the two recipients. This year the selected recipients were Tyler Brett and Skyla Pierson.

Tyler’s academic performance throughout high school was outstanding, and he has extensive volunteer experience with the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium as well as having completed an internship focused on restoration and invasive species with the Missoula County Department of Ecology. He will begin his studies at the University of Montana in Fall 2024 with a major in Environmental Studies and Sustainability.

While studying Wildlife Biology at the Miles Community College, Skyla has maintained a GPA of 4.0. She has been involved with Ecology Project International for multiple conservation projects, including working alongside biologists in Montana. Her goal is to improve rangelands in Montana through her research.

Thank you to all of the district staff that helped with the scholarship process. Weather it was promoting, planning, or just helping, we are grateful for your help.  Congratulations to Tyler and Skyla we hope that this award can help further your education.

Solomon Garza is a Big Sky Water Corps member with the Montana Association of Conservation Districts.

TMC Submissions: communications@macdnet.org

Upcoming Events

Area Meetings

September 24th- October 3rd

Each fall, MACD attends meetings for each of Montana’s six Conservation District Areas. At these meetings, neighboring conservation districts, MACD area directors, staff, and partners get together to discuss issues facing their areas, programs the districts are implementing, proposed resolutions, election of MACD Area Directors, and more. Area Meetings are annually scheduled for the last week of September and first week of October.

Dates and Locations

09/24: Area 6 Mtg – Lewis and Clark

09/25: Area 3 Mtg – Toole

09/26: Area 5 Mtg – Green Mountain

10/01: Area 1 Mtg – Roosevelt

10/02: Area 2 Mtg – Wibaux

10/03: Area 4 Mtg – Stillwater

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Spring Board Meeting

June 11th-13th, 2024 in Helena, MT

The 2024 MACD Spring Board Meeting is scheduled for June 11th-13th in Helena, Montana. The meeting is open to conservation districts and partners to attend in-person or virtually. Please find further information below regarding the agenda and event details.

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MACD Annual Convention

November 19th-21st, 2024 in Great Falls,MT

The 2024 Annual Convention is scheduled for November 19th-21st in Great Falls, Montana. This year it will be at Heritage Inn. More information will be sent out as we get closer to the event.

District Newsletters

Custer County Conservation District

Gallatin Conservation District

Garfield Conservation District

Hill County Conservation District

Lake County Conservation District

Lewis and Clark Conservation District

Liberty County Conservation District

Madison Conservation District

Park Conservation District

Pondera County Conservation District

Ruby Valley Conservation District

Valley County Conservation District

Missoula Conservation District

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Published quarterly, The Montana Conservationist features stories about conservation districts and our partners.

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