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SWCD NEWS: Honoring conservationists

Stream Steward Conservationist Frank Liupakka (center) with Barb Dahl, SWCD Supervisor District 1 (left), and Kelly Smith, SWCD Conservation Technician (right). Contributed Photos1 / 5
Conservation Legislator Senator Tony Lourey (center) with Mark Thell, SWCD Supervisor District 5 (right), and Brad Matlack, SWCD Manager (left).2 / 5
Conservation Educator Courtney Kowalczak (center) with Merrill Loy, SWCD Supervisor District 3 (left), and Melanie Bomier, SWCD Water Resource Technician (right).3 / 5
Outstanding Conservationist Mark Herwig (center) with Kim Samuelson, SWCD Supervisor District 4 (left), and Will Bomier, NRCS District Conservationist (right). 4 / 5
Sponsors for the 2016 SWCD Conservation Awards Program are pictured: Front row (L-R), Leona Carlson (Cornerstone State Bank); Renee and Allen Burman (Cloquet Ford). Back row (L-R) Loren Lilly, Steve Dahnke and Bruce Ahlgren (Enbridge); Mark Sagvold (Farmers Union Insurance).5 / 5

Conservationists. What kind of people do you think of when you hear that word? Scientists? Natural resource professionals? "Reduce-Reuse-Recycle" people? Tree huggers?

Just what exactly is a "conservationist?"

One definition is: "A person who advocates or acts for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife."

So that brings up the question — who do you think of when you hear the word "conservationist?" Famous people like Ansel Adams (wilderness photographer), David Attenborough (host of natural history documentaries), Daniel Boone (wilderness explorer), Jacques Cousteau (oceanographer), Jane Goodall (primatologist studying chimpanzees), Aldo Leopold (forester), John Muir (author, founder of Sierra Club) or Henry David Thoreau (author)?

Even Minnesota has a few famous conservationists like Sigurd Olson (environmentalist who worked to establish the Boundary Waters Canoe Area) and Hubert H. Humphrey (U.S. Senator who first presented the Federal Wilderness Preservation System Bill to Congress). These conservationists — the famous ones — are usually the ones who get the "name recognition," the honor, the glory. However, there are lots of people who, in their everyday lives, do conservation work but don't get honored or recognized. They are our unsung conservation "heroes."

It is for people like these, the ordinary people closer to home, that the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has held its annual Awards Program every year since 1962. It is a time to honor and give recognition to the county's unsung conservation heroes, those landowners and partners who accomplish conservation efforts and projects above the ordinary, "above and beyond the call of duty." These people are our neighbors and friends who have been working to help preserve and protect the natural resources in our county, our area and our state.

The Carlton County SWCD honored the following conservationists for 2016 at this year’s awards banquet.

Stream Steward Conservationist: Frank Liupakka

Frank Liupakka and his wife, Jane, are life-long residents of Thomson Township. Frank Liupakka was honored and thanked for working with the SWCD to protect their shoreline and stream, according to Kelly Smith, Carlton SWCD conservation technician.

In 2010, Liupakka contacted the Carlton SWCD and requested assistance to stabilize a 50-foot long gully across their property on the banks of the Midway River, a designated trout stream. This gully formed from water draining from the township road. After discussions with the SWCD, Liupakka decided not to proceed with stabilization measures at that time.

But the 2012 flood changed Liupakka's mind. The flood caused more extensive erosion in the gully and more property damage while it washed another 22 tons of soil into the river. This extra soil reduced water quality and impaired fish habitat. In addition, about 22 pounds of phosphorus also washed into the river which could lead to algae blooms in lakes downstream. Based on these facts and damage, Liupakka decided to move ahead with the stabilization project on his property.

In 2013, engineers from SWCD Technical Service Area (TSA) 3, which provides engineering services to several SWCDs in Northeast Minnesota, met with Liupakka. They assessed the damage, surveyed the site, and discussed options and costs. Liupakka then applied and was approved for state cost-share assistance through Carlton SWCD. The TSA engineers delivered their design in early 2014, and Liupakka obtained the needed permits and then hired a contractor who completed the project that year.

The end result was a rock-lined waterway that was completed under budget. The damage to the Liupakka property has been stopped, and water quality and trout habitat was protected. A much needed and beautiful conservation project accomplished with a willing and well-informed landowner.

We honor Frank Liupakka as 2016 Stream Steward Conservationist, an ordinary person doing extra-ordinary action to help protect the Midway River.

Conservation Educator: Courtney Kowalczak

The director of the Environmental Institute at Fond du Lac Tribal Community College in Cloquet, Courtney Kowalczak has spent many years organizing the very successful St. Louis River Watch Program and the River Watch Congress. Both programs cultivate lifelong stewardship of water resources by providing hands-on learning for secondary students in our community.

Through the River Watch Program, area students and teachers get out in the field to collect water quality, water chemistry and biology data on area streams. The information they collect not only advances their own learning and knowledge, but it also provides valuable data that would not otherwise be collected. This is an important community service activity for River Watch students to be involved in.

In addition, Kowalczak hosts the River Watch Congress in March of each year. The Congress is a day-long event for area students to learn about different conservation activities taught by area professionals.

Kowalczak is a wonderful educator "who is so generous with her time and who enthusiastically helps with so many educational events in our area," said Melanie Bomier, Carlton SWCD water resource technician.

"Every time I talk to her, Courtney has a new and exciting project working with students of all ages,” Bomier said. “She has no doubt inspired countless people to care for and protect their natural resources."

This year, we honor Courtney Kowalczak as 2016 Conservation Educator for her extra-ordinary commitment to teaching and inspiring the next generation of conservationists.

Conservation Legislator:  Senator Tony Lourey

Tony Lourey was first elected to the Minnesota Senate in 2006 following a long run by his mother Becky Lourey who had held the the same seat. Senator Lourey serves Minnesota Senate District 11 which includes Carlton and Pine counties along with portions of St. Louis and Kanabec counties.

“Senator Lourey has been a key ally in the legislature in helping to make adjustments to state programs and advancing SWCD stable funding initiatives,” said Brad Matlack, Carlton SWCD district manager. “He is always available to visit with SWCD staff or supervisors working at the capital.”

Lourey, who runs a small family farm in the Kerrick area, recognizes the importance of conservation work in Minnesota.

"I have always been proud to partner with SWCD organizations around the state to help secure adequate and stable funding in order to maintain the important conservation work in every corner of Minnesota,” he said.

He also recognizes the value of SWCDs.

"I think last year's clarification of the buffer laws are a real testament to the trust placed in SWCDs,” he said. “We were able to rely on SWCD experience in local conservation issues to make this law work much better for our incredibly diverse landscapes around Minnesota."

Some of the legislative initiatives that Lourey has helped advance in the conservation field include: Reinvest in Minnesota Conservation Easements, General Andrews Tree Nursery Sales to SWCDs, Ag Certification of Top Conservation Farmers, Carlton and Carlton/Twin Lakes Regional Water District, Big Lake Area Sanitary District, and the Wolf-Livestock Conflict.

Without legislators like Sen. Lourey, Minnesota would not be "leading the pack" in regards to many conservation programs and efforts. And for this, we honor and thank Senator Tony Lourey as Conservation Legislator for 2016.

Outstanding Conservationist: Mark Herwig

“Working with Mark is always a pleasure," said Will Bomier, district conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). "He has an incredible passion for conservation and for implementing practices that will make his land better for wildlife, water quality, plants and the soil."

A Mahtowa landowner, Herwig started with a forest management plan done on his property. However, he didn't stop there. He implemented several projects and also allowed the Carlton SWCD and NRCS to use his property for tours and demonstrations. Herwig enthusiastically continues to look for ways to improve and enhance his property.

In addition, as editor for “Pheasants Forever” and a contributing writer for several other publications around the region and the country, Herwig works hard to get the message out about doing and encouraging conservation efforts.

"Mark's writings and efforts to educate and demonstrate to others the importance of these practices have resulted in additional conservation work being implemented across Carlton County and the country,” added Bomier.

For working "above and beyond the call of duty" to implement conservation projects and to educate and encourage others, Carlton SWCD honors Mark Herwig as the 2016 Outstanding Conservationist.


Each one of these award winners is an ordinary person… a neighbor, a friend, a teacher, a farmer … but each of them is doing an extraordinary job in living — and encouraging — a conservationist way of life. They may not be famous, but to us and others, they are unsung conservation heroes! Carlton County SWCD honors and recognizes each of them for their efforts to conserve and protect our county's natural resources.