Soil & water conservation
As we all enter this time of thankfulness, please allow a few brief reflections on things that my organization, the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, one of 47 SWCDs across the great state of New Mexico, is deeply thankful for.
Always, first on this annual gratitude list will be the everlasting honor of serving our community and helping in VSWCD’s small way to make people’s lives better through our conservation and environmental education programs. Nothing is as fulfilling as knowing we are positively impacting people’s lives, whether it be the educational fun had by the fourth, fifth and sixth-graders from Isleta Elementary who visited the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area last week or the new career choices being made by our locally-hired Youth Conservation Corps members of our summer field crew (one of whom just changed her College major to Wildlife Conservation, a decision empowered by working at WWCA the last six months and seeing the difference her hard work can bring to the Whitfield lands and to the enjoyment of those that visit it).
Next on the 2023 list of things to be grateful for is sharing that the Valencia SWCD was selected as the Outstanding District of the Year, largely based on the strength of the conservation and education programs mentioned above. This award is granted by the New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts to one of the 47 districts in the state doing the most to effectively promote effective conservation and collaboration.
As noted in the acceptance speech made by our board chairman, Abel Camarena, “We are incredibly grateful to NMACD for this recognition, showing that our community-first focus is making a difference and being seen by many people outside of our local area. This award affirms our solid belief that for good things to happen on any issue of importance, partnerships need to be forged and trust gained.”
At the NMACD’s 77th annual meeting’s awards banquet held in Albuquerque on Nov. 7, the awards were presented by Josh Smith, of the National Association of Conservation Districts’ executive board. He remarked that Valencia SWCD deserves the District of the Year Award for a wide range of services provided to the residents withing the District’s boundaries.
“The VSWCD’s educational programs set the standard in many ways in the SWCD community, showing great use of the unique Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area’s outdoor classrooms,” he said. “The district’s financial assistance program is innovative and serves a wide range of citizens, helping them reach their own conservation project goals with effective science-based management recommendations. As a leading conservation and education organization within the state of New Mexico, Valencia SWCD is deserving of this recognition as the 2023 Outstanding District of the Year — keep up the good work!”
With humility in the receipt of the NMACD award, another place where Valencia SWCD is filled with gratitude relates to the amazing network of volunteers who come to the Whitfield lands, offering to help where needed, making a huge contribution in all of the district’s programs. The members of the Friends of Whitfield — an independent, non-profit corporation dedicated to supporting the Whitfield conservation area complex — have long been the backbone of the district’s activities and are a huge part of the reason our programs are as strong they are.
The Friends of Whitfield engage in a diverse list of activities to further the district’s priorities, doing things like being tour assistants supporting the many local students’ visits to the preserve, or helping maintain the grounds at the three units VSWCD owns and manages (including the Stacy Unit and the Rio Abajo Conservation Area). The Friends show up in force in support of the many public (always free) events hosted by VSWCD, including being essential partners in hosting our biggest annual event, the Earth Day Fiesta, held each April.
Indeed, the Friends of Whitfield made all the difference at our most recent event, Whitfield Under the Stars. On Nov. 11, 135 visitors saw a live Great Horned Owl educational talk, followed by a terrific night sky talk by Jim Greenhouse, the director of Space Science at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science, before going outside to use telescopes to view the star filled heavens.
I will close with gratitude to all our friends, partners and the readership of this newspaper, sincerely hoping that everyone is safe and sound during this special time of year, and that kindness is the call of the holiday season.
(Andrew Hautzinger is the district director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.)
Andrew Hautzinger, guest columnist
Andrew Hautzinger has been the district director for the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District since 2020. Prior to that, he was a volunteer VSWCD board member for 12 years and spent many years volunteering at the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.
Hautzinger has a bachelor of science in watershed sciences from Colorado State University. He worked for more than 27 years as a federal hydrologist working for agencies within the Department of Interior including the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. National Park Service, and for the final 20 years of his career, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’ National Wildlife Refuge System.