Preserving our natural resources, one program at a time

Howard County SWCD Turkey River Headquarters & Chihak Creek Watershed Project coordinator Hunter Slifka ’18 (photo center) is joined by other conservation staff members during a potential saturated buffer survey on the north branch of the Turkey River.

Hunter Slifka ’18 is one of the many Peacock alumni who work every day to protect Earth’s natural resources for the benefit of current and future generations. A graduate of Upper Iowa University’s conservation management program, Slifka chose his career path following his graduation from Cresco (Iowa) High School and serving as a Howard County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) summer intern.

“When I finished high school, I had a dream to work as a conservation officer for the Iowa DNR,” Slifka said. “But once I began working with the SWCD I knew instantly that this was the career field I wanted to pursue. It possessed all the characteristics I imagined a dream job would have; outside activities, working directly with farmers and the general public, and the opportunity to help improve our environment and natural resources on a daily basis.”

Setting out on his career path, the wrestling recruit knew he wanted to attend a small college where he would benefit academically and excel alongside a tight-knit group of teammates.

“From the first time I arrived at Fayette Campus, I knew UIU was the school for me,” Slifka said. “The admissions staff, professors, coaches and everyone else I met opened their arms to me and made me feel like I was at home. I especially want to thank my advisor, (biology professor) Dr. Jennifer Stoffel. Without her pushing and helping me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There were many times I had to juggle my wrestling and academic schedules to ensure the success of my graduation plan. Each time, Dr. Stoffel kept me on the right path to graduating on time. We are still in touch to this day, which I feel many other advisors and professors from other colleges do not do with their former students.”

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship staff members Will Myers (left) and Matt McDonald awarded Hunter Slifka (center) with the 2021 Outstanding Watershed Project in Iowa during a September presentation attended by UIU faculty, staff and students.

“In addition to Dr. Stoffel and all the UIU professors, especially those in the science department in Baker-Hebron, I need to thank my wrestling coaches, Heath Grimm and Nate Skaar,” Slifka added. “Without them, UIU would not have even been on my radar. My coaches made so much happen for me, and they always trusted and believed in me. I’ll never forget my four years at UIU and the memories that were made in Dorman Gym.”

The lessons learned at UIU quickly carried over to Slifka’s daily life. His climb up the career ladder began with the United States Department of Agriculture, where he completed a summer internship and 780 hours as a technician. As the current Howard County SWCD Turkey River Headquarters & Chihak Creek Watershed Project coordinator, Slifka works with nearly 400 conservation-minded producers in the watershed. His day-to-day duties include communicating with and educating farmers and the general public about the best field conservation practices available.

Among his recent projects, Slifka was tasked with designing approximately 20 area streambank stabilization projects. In late July, he was also notified about available funding to use for cover crops in the watershed. Within a month, over 5,000 acres were signed up for the program, and since then 25 percent of the land has already been seeded.

The watershed now encompasses a total of nearly 13,000 acres of cover crops. This is two times the amount from last year and nearly six times the amount from 2019. Presently, 25 percent of all cropland acres have cover crops seeded, which increases infiltration rates, improves soil health and provides additional sources of food and habitat to wildlife throughout winter.

Hunter Slifka ’18 holds a native Brown Trout to sample during an electrofishing survey on Stoney Creek, a tributary to the Turkey River in northeast Iowa.

In September, the Howard County area received anywhere from 5 to 13 inches of rainfall over approximately three days. While this caused a fast rise of the local streams and adverse effects downstream, the overall results were enlightening.

“Locally, when we have a rain or flood event of this magnitude, it is at least one week or more until our water bodies are back to ‘normal,’” said Slifka. “In this case, we returned to normal water flows in just a couple days. To see the banks of our streams stabilize and hold up against large flood events has provided me a great deal of satisfaction.”

For his efforts as the watershed project coordinator for the Turkey River Headwaters & Chihak Creek, Slifka was honored with the 2021 Circle of Excellence award by the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance (IAWA). He and the Howard County SWCD Office have also been bestowed the 2021 Conservation Districts of Iowa (CDI) & Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship (IDALS) Watershed of the Year Award, 2021 Izaak Walton League Honor Roll Award, 2021 Outstanding Soil & Water Conservation District Award and 2021 Exemplary Use of State Cost Share Funds Award.

“The work we have done in Howard County and in the Turkey River Watershed has begun to pay off and pay dividends for our area farmers and the environment,” Slifka closed. “The goals I set for myself when I began working with the Soil Water Conservation District back in 2014 are becoming a reality. My watershed project co-worker, Neil Shaffer, always tells me, ‘If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.’ I can truly say I have never worked a day in my life!”



Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: