The Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD) Annual Conference was held at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney, September 25th – 26th and focused on protecting lives, property and the future of Nebraska’s natural resources. This year more than 400 Natural Resources Districts (NRD) managers, staff, board members, conservation partners and the public received new information on many natural resources and agriculture developments and projects going on now.
“This conference continues to exceed expectations,” said Jim Bendfeldt, president of the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts. “The Natural Resources Districts’ (NRD) Annual Conference educates hundreds of people every year on the newest technology, NRD conservation programs and latest data used to help conserve our water, soil and other vital natural resources.”
Participants had a variety of educational break-out sessions to choose from. Sessions focused on NCORPE (Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project), joint water management plans, E. Coli, pasture and grassland burnings, Great Plains Windbreak Initiative and how water affects our national security. Other events included recognition of Hall of Fame inductees, conservation award winners, Master Conservationist awards and a speech by Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley.
The NARD Foundation which provides financial assistance to youth programs in natural resources and agriculture, raised more than $21,000 this year during its live and silent auctions, golf and shootout fundraisers! These funds will assist in supporting more than 11 different educational programs in Nebraska to encourage kids to learn more about our natural resources and consider a career in natural resources.
During the Hall of Fame ceremony, three individuals were inducted into the Natural Resources Hall of Fame. They include Dean Rasmussen from North Loup who’s a longtime board member of the Lower Loup NRD. Ron Fleecs from Beatrice is a retired general manager of the Lower Big Blue NRD in Beatrice. The third is Gayle Starr who’s originally from Clay County. He currently lives in Lincoln. He is a retired division head of the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission after assisting in creating the Natural Resources Districts in 1972. This is the NRDs’ 45th Anniversary.
“The inductees of the Natural Resources Districts Hall of Fame have spent their lifetimes working to make sure future generations will be able to enjoy the beauty and resources of this state just as we are today,” said Bendfeldt.
Hall of Fame inductee categories include: Natural Resources District Board Member, Natural Resources District Employee and NRD Supporter which includes individuals outside the NRD system.
- Hall of Fame inductee, Dean Rasmussen, was nominated for the Hall of Fame NRD Board member category by the Lower Loup Natural Resources District (LLNRD). He’s been an elected Director of the LLNRD since 1972 when the NRDs were created. He’s from North Loup, but now resides in Hastings. Rasmussen was also one of 23 Directors of the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NARD) for 24 years and representative on the Loup Basin RC&D Council. He served Valley County as a member of the County Hospital Board of Directors, also in the North Loup Lions Club and has been a guiding force in the annual “Popcorn Days” celebration in North Loup. He’s volunteered countless hours of planning, preparation and hard work for numerous organizations throughout the years. Rasmussen received the “Director of the Year” Award from NARD in 2004.
- Hall of Fame inductee, Ron Fleecs, was nominated for the Hall of Fame NRD Staff category by the Lower Big Blue Natural Resources District. He’s from Beatrice. He started his conservation work back in 1959 in the Nebraska Panhandle. He worked as a Watershed Specialist for the Natural Resources Commission from 1963 to 1972. Fleecs was instrumental in the development of the NRD system and was the first NRD manager for the Lower Big Blue NRD for 32 years until his retirement in 2004. He has overseen more watershed construction projects than any other individual in the NRD system, overseeing 67 flood damage reduction dams, five grade stabilization structures, seven County-NRD road structures, installed more than 3,300 miles of terraces and more than 6,000 acres of grass waterways. It is because of Fleecs’s work that the Lower Big Blue NRD is commonly referred to as “The Watershed Capitol of the World”.
- Hall of Fame inductee, Gayle Starr, was nominated by the Lower Big Blue Natural Resources District to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Natural Resources Districts Supporter. Starr grew up on a Clay County farm near Edgar, Nebraska. He currently lives in Lincoln. He graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a Bachelor’s degree and followed up with a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics. He worked as an ag economist for the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Commission in 1965, soon joining the staff at what became the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission. That’s where he worked with the Nebraska Legislature and the Governor in assuring and developing a meaningful NRD planning program. With his help, the NRDs were established in 1972. Starr then moved into the position of Division Head for the agency and retired in 2006.
Nebraska Association of Resources Districts Conservation award winners include:
- Director of the Year Award – Jim Johnson from Dix, NE – Nominated by South Platte NRD
- Educator of the Year Award – Dennis Mottl from Palmer, NE, An Ag. Education Teacher – Nominated by Lower Loup NRD
- Outstanding Grassland Conservation Award – Waits Ranch from Tryon, NE – Nominated by Twin Platte NRD
- Outstanding Tree Planter Award – Scott Trost from Sidney, NE – Nominated by South Platte NRD
- Outstanding Community Conservation Award -Western Nebraska Community College – Sidney Campus, Sidney, NE – Nominated by South Platte NRD
- Outstanding Soil Stewardship Conservation Award – Ben and Paula Sue Steffen from Humboldt, NE – nominated by Nemaha NRD
Omaha World-Herald and IANR Master Conservationist Award Winners include:
- Agriculture – Dennis and Imogene Wacker – nominated by Lower Elkhorn NRD
- Education – Grand Island Senior High Success Academy – nominated by Central Platte NR