Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Kim Samuelson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

SWCD: Working on positive changes


February 28, 2019

Provided Photo

New SWCD board supervisors: (from left to right) Rick Dalen, Russell Kurhajetz, and Bob Fox.

A wise woman, cultural anthropologist and author Margaret Mead, once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world." This describes what the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has been attempting, but recently it has undergone big changes of its own.

At the end of 2018, Carlton SWCD bid farewell to three board supervisors who left SWCD service - James Nynas, Mark Thell, and Joe Lambert. Carlton SWCD Manager Brad Matlack acknowledged that, "We are sad to see Jim, Mark and Joe leave and we greatly thank them for their years of dedicated service."

Matlack also welcomed the four new people who will help with SWCD work in Carlton County: Christopher Gass, who has temporarily joined the SWCD work force, plus three new SWCD board supervisors - Russell Kurhajetz (representing District 2), Bob Fox (representing District 3), and Rick Dalen (representing District 5). "Each of the four brings unique perspectives and abilities to the SWCD," said Matlack, "and we look forward to seeing what kinds of positive impacts they will have on the work the SWCD does in helping landowners and citizens learn about and work to help protect and preserve the natural resources of Carlton County."

A native Minnesotan, but a recent transplant to Carlton County, Russell Kurhajetz lives in Thomson Township with his wife and three children. Kurhajetz graduated from the College of St. Scholastica and has been involved with natural resource issues for many years, including working with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) citizen stream monitoring program. He stressed that the "local focus of the SWCD in helping landowners appreciate natural resources very much matches what I want to do." As a homeschool father, Kurhajetz wants to help teachers and students get excited and involved in the Envirothon (which will be held on Monday, May 6 this year), tree planting projects, and other natural resource activities. In addition, he is interested in legislative work and is already working with other SWCD districts on natural resource issues at the state level.

An avid outdoorsman and environmentalist, Bob Fox is a long time Twin Lakes Township resident. A widower with a son living at home, Fox loves the outdoors and can often be found on cross country ski, backpacking or canoe trips. He also enjoys dragon boat and canoe racing as well as walking through the woods. All of these outdoor activities have nurtured in him a strong desire to appreciate and care for our natural resources. Fox looks forward to working with watershed and forestry management projects as, he noted, there's "too much pollution in our streams" and "some of our tree species are really struggling."

The owner/operator of Northern Harvest Farm, Rick Dalen lives with his wife and two children in rural Wrenshall. As his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm was the first Carlton County farm certified under the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), Rick has worked, and is familiar, with the projects and programs of Carlton SWCD and its partners. Rick shared that, "my interests as a farmer coincide with the goals of the SWCD," and that he feels working with Carlton SWCD is a way to "give back to the community." Besides helping people learn how to take care of natural resources, Dalen is very excited to be involved in the beginning stages of the Nemadji One Watershed One Plan program.

Christopher Gass, the new member of the workforce, is a Minnesota GreenCorps Service Member who has been placed in a service position with Carlton SWCD as his host site for 11 months. He started service with Carlton SWCD on October 1, 2018 and will serve until August 30, 2019. Raised in St. Cloud, Gass graduated from UMD with a B.A. degree in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, with a minor in Geographic Information Sciences (GIS).

According to Gass, his position at Carlton SWCD is as a "green infrastructure improvement member focusing on storm water and urban forestry. My overarching goal is to 'create collaboration between the SWCD and county citizens to increase awareness and implementation of storm water and urban forestry best management practices (BMPs).'" So far, Gass's service to the SWCD and the county has involved several different aspects and projects.

In the area of forestry, Gass is working to estimate the amount of tree cover in the county, calculate how trees are performing, and assess the ability of proposed tree plantings to improve the amount and benefits of urban forests. He is also evaluating local government readiness plans to manage urban forests and to combat the threats to urban trees, including emerald ash borer and other pests. In addition, Gass says he is "trying to encourage greater effort and focus on developing plans for city tree management and increased plantings." One of his goals is to coordinate an urban tree planting project between a local municipality and the SWCD, and he hopes that the project will involve volunteers to help citizens learn how to correctly plant and care for trees.

In working with water issues, especially related to issues of storm water and storm drains, Gass has created an "Adopt a Storm Drain" program to get a county-wide inventory of storm drains as well as to encourage citizen involvement in storm water management and local water quality. He is also educating urban residents about storm water pollution - what it is, where it goes, and what it carries - and what voluntary actions they can do to reduce storm water pollution. Before his service is completed, Gass hopes to work with urban citizens and local government to put in at least one urban rain garden where, he says, people can learn how "storm water can be captured and then cleaned."

Gass has also been meeting with public maintenance personnel to assess snow and ice removal practices, salt and sand usage, and familiarity with chloride pollution. He has been working to raise awareness of BMPs and the assessment tools offered through MPCA. In addition, Gass is researching funds to help provide training for road maintenance professionals regarding these issues.

Education of students is an important part of Gass's service as well. He is reaching out to encourage schools, teachers and student groups to become involved in the Envirothon, a nation- and Canadian-wide competition based on natural resource knowledge and issues. He is also helping teachers develop studies for students regarding water quality, forestry, storm water, green versus gray infrastructure, and other issues as well as supplying information about the SWCD and the role it plays in the county.

Besides educating citizens and officials, one of Gass's key service objectives is his stated desire to "mobilize volunteers to help in projects (such as) adopting a storm drain, removal of invasive species, plantings of trees or resilient plants, working with or competing in the Envirothon" and other natural resource projects.

Carlton SWCD encourages all Carlton County landowners and citizens to join with us to welcome these new additions in our quest to help protect, preserve and enrich the natural resources of Carlton County.

Kim Samuelson is Carlton SWCD's elected supervisor for District 4. For more information about the Carlton SWCD and any of the staff's or supervisors' work with natural resources, contact them at 218-384-3891. You can also find more information about Carlton SWCD on Facebook or on their website at


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