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East Otter Tail Soil-Water District celebrates 50th anniversary

The East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (EOT SWCD) celebrated 50 years of assisting East Otter Tail County land owners and producers last Wednesday with a Conservation Tour and Picnic. About 35 participants viewed practices, including tree planting practices, with the use of weed control fabric and tree shelters, riparian buffers, filter strips, rotational grazing, wetland restorations, irrigation management, wildlife habitat improvements, feedlot waste management systems, and lakescaping projects.

Looking back, SWCDs were formed out of the "Dust Bowl Era". These special purpose local units of government were developed across the country to encourage landowners to alter their farming techniques in order to more wisely use our soil and water resources. Over the years, soil and water conservation districts expanded their focuses beyond agriculture to also provide assistance in forested, lakes and urban areas of their communities. SWCDs fill a crucial niche of providing soil and water conservation services to owners of private lands. Privately owned lands make up 78 percent of the land surface in Minnesota. With all of the pressures we are currently putting on our natural resources, managing these private lands for the wisest use of these resources, whether agriculture, forest, lakes, or urban, is key to maintaining Minnesota's quality of life.

"In the past 50 years things have really changed," said Marion Gill, EOT SWCD Supervisor. Marion was a Conservation Aide for the Soil Conservation Service in the early 1960's in East Otter Tail County. "Back then the District focused on drainage ditches and field windbreaks. The District bought its first tree planter in 1960. In 1963 the SWCD planted over 25 miles of field windbreaks. In 1964 they purchased a second tree planter and in 1966 they planted 185,000 trees."

"Today the EOT SWCD is involved with many different aspects of conserving the natural resource of East Otter Tail County," said Lyle Dittmann, EOT SWCD Chairperson. "We still work with our base customers dealing with production agriculture, but we also have a huge resource concern with the lakes. Lakeshore owners are now asking what they need to do to protect their lake. They understand the quality of the water in their lake affects the values of their property. We also have landowners who are more interested in developing wildlife habitat on their property for recreational purposes, and water quality in general is a concern for our constituents and the Natural Resource Agencies across the state."

Darren Newville, EOT SWCD district manager stated, "It is very interesting to look through all of the old annual reports to see what activities the EOT SWCD was involved with in the past. As early as 1969, the SWCD board started taking an interest in water quality problems in our lakes, and what was happening with irrigation. In 1979 a groundwater quality monitoring network was established with some neighboring SWCD's to study nitrate levels in our well water. In 1983 the SWCD purchased it's first no-till drill to be rented to area producers and in 1990 they started Conservation Days at Walker Lake which is an educational program for 5th grade students that is still being held annually. It was reported that 700 kids attended that event."

If anyone is interested in finding out more about the East Otter Tail SWCD and its projects and programs, they can contact the office at 801 Jenny Ave. SW in Perham, by calling (218)346-4260 Ext. 3, or visit their website at