O’Neil recognized with Conservation Excellence Award

BROOMFIELD — Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg recently announced the recipients of the 2021 Award for Conservation Excellence, which recognizes individuals in Conservation Districts who have demonstrated excellence and leadership for Colorado’s conservation community. This year’s honorees are Patrick O’Neill from the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District, and Katlin Miller from the Middle Park Conservation District.

“Conservation work is critical to protecting Colorado’s natural and working lands that support our state’s agricultural sector,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg. “Katlin and Patrick have shown that when landowners, conservation districts, and state agencies work together, we can create opportunities for farmers and ranchers to engage in conservation practices while protecting their businesses and their bottom line.”

O’Neill, a supervisor with the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District (MSCD), was honored with the Award for Conservation Excellence for contributing extensive expertise to CDA’s development of the Soil Health Initiative. A soil scientist and owner of Soil Health Services, PBC in the San Luis Valley, O’Neill participated in nearly every Colorado Collaborative for Healthy Soils committee meeting to develop a soil health initiative that’s appropriate for conservation districts to deliver to their constituent farmers and ranchers. 

"We're facing hard times with drought, topsy-turvy input and market prices, the necessity of aquifer recovery, and the need to build back soil health,” said O’Neill. “Collaborations with many different agricultural and conservation groups have been vital to this work. I'm very grateful for the recognition from Commissioner Greenberg and from the Colorado Department of Agriculture. I look forward to the work that lies ahead to connect soil health with aquifer recharge, and to foster a more functional water cycle."

Leveraging funding through numerous public and private grants, O’Neill and the MSCD developed projects focused on soil health and unconfined aquifer recharge. Together, and in collaboration with local farmers and the Soil Carbon Coalition, they developed a vermicompost operation to produce high-fungal compost for inoculation of agriculture fields. O’Neill also worked on the San Luis Valley Aquifer Targeted Recharge Project, a multi-year plan to identify best practices for unconfined aquifer recharge and improved ground water resources. As a board member of the Rio Grande Watershed Conservation & Education Initiative, O’Neill is dedicated to teaching others about conservation and has taught soil science at local high school soil health workshops.

Miller, the District Manager for the Middle Park Conservation District (MPCD), was recognized for her quick and decisive response during and after the East Troublesome Fire of 2020, second-largest fire in Colorado history. Her actions proved that determination, resourcefulness and partnerships are keys to success in helping landowners in the aftermath of a catastrophic event.

The Commissioner’s Award for Conservation Excellence is awarded annually to a single individual involved in conservation district work. No award was given in 2020 due to the pandemic, so two honorees were selected in 2021.