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Desktop Conservationist Helps Fix Priority Watersheds

Earth Team volunteer Steve Eckstein’s computer work is helping North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development Council (NJRC&D) improve water quality in a big way. He’s also helping farmers get conservation funding needed to improve their land.

Earth Team is the name given to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service volunteers. Earth Team volunteers work side by side with Natural Resource Conservation Service employees on conservation projects to improve their local environment.

It was 2009 and NJRC&D had a problem. It was approved by NRCS to participate in the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), but needed help pinpointing program eligible farms and farmers.

AWEP is a five-year program which provides cost-share for farmers to implement best management practices to improve water quality in a selected high priority area. NJRC&D needed to identify sub-watershed areas impaired with phosphorus, sediment, and bacteria and contact individual farmers owning properties needing help. NJRC&D had a model showing hotspots of environmental concern, but the challenge was to link the model’s hotspots with actual farms on the ground. That required tedious computer mapping work.

NJRC&D advertised for an Earth Team volunteer to help them and Steve Eckstein answered, saying he was willing to help in any way he could. Eckstein explained he was available because he had been placed on long-term disability from his physically demanding job. He said data entry was perfect for him because he was determined to be active and helpful in spite of his disability.

New Jersey “desktop conservationist” Steve Eckstein.

New Jersey “desktop conservationist” Steve Eckstein.

Eckstein soon became what he dubbed a “desktop conservationist.” He took almost a thousand publicly available tax data sheets on area farms and manually entered that information into a database that was compatible with GIS computer mapping software. Data could then be used by AWEP personnel to contact farmers and improve water quality in the area.

In 2010, more than 32,000 Earth Team volunteers donated 641,549 hours of service to NRCS estimated to be worth $13.4 million. Since Earth Team was formed in 1985, over half a million volunteers have donated an estimated $327 million worth of time, in 2010 dollars, helping NRCS with its conservation mission.

One Response to “Desktop Conservationist Helps Fix Priority Watersheds”

  1. charles surrency says:

    I read the information, this really is a good and vital project. I am spreading the info here in my state of GEORGIA. I have been working with USDA/FSA for 34 years, I have better than 4 years of sick leave too to add to my retirement whenever that day comes. I have been here so long until i do not even entertain the idea. I have always donate annual leave to people in the agency, I feel that GOD has blessed me with good health and the least that I could do is help someone in trouble in this time of uncertainty. People every where is struggling to make it. I believe give and you will always be blessed by the creator. I am 64 years old and healthy at the present time. as for medicine, I only take a 81 baby aspirin. I walk almost every day and enjoy life. That is my prayer for everyone. GOD put this in my heart when he saved me 38 years ago. I know that we have to be careful about religion and salvation, GOD will take of what he gives me to say. He is my judge and what he says goes high, deep and wide. He is the BOSS.

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