Stewardship Network Conference Report: Connecting with new and old friends over restoration agriculture, invasive species, and prescribed fire

What are you doing January 15 and 16 of 2016? If you’re interested in working together to care for our lands and waters, you might want to pencil in the 2016 Stewardship Network Conference. Last Friday and Saturday I attended this conference for the first time and enjoyed connecting with everyone in the conservation-oriented crowd of Michigan and surrounding states and learning more about natural areas stewardship. Federal, state, and local governments were well-represented and were joined by land conservancies, watershed councils, universities, students, ecological restoration companies, utility companies, and private citizens hoping to learn more. Here’s a synopsis of my conference experience.


Restoration Agriculture

We kicked off the conference with a rousing keynote by Mark Shepard, founder of New Forest Farm and author of the new book Restoration Agriculture. Mark converted eroding row-crop agriculture fields at his Wisconsin farm to a perennial agriculture model mimicking oak savanna in an attempt to do profitable sustainable agriculture that enhances habitat for native plants and wildlife instead of degrading habitat. Traditional agriculture has a problem: it works against nature for short-term profit, resulting in a system where our soil runs down the river to lakes and oceans at the rate of tons per acre every year and where our native pollinators are disappearing at an alarming rate. Take home message: by working with nature instead of against it, we can do profitable, sustainable agriculture.

Sharing experiences through roundtable discussions

For the rest of the conference I focused on connecting with people doing on-the-ground natural areas management. At the invasive species roundtable discussion I learned about techniques that have been successful for others, and techniques that haven’t worked. At the oak savanna round table discussion we talked about doing oak savanna restoration at a large enough scale so that natural processes are working with you instead of against you. I also learned about two oak savanna related books that I’ll be adding to my library soon: Prairies and Savannas in Michigan (O’Connor, Kost, and Cohen 2009) and Forgotten Fires (Stewart 2009).

Practical tips for prescribed fire

I spent time learning about some important considerations when using prescribed fire in Michigan, including burning techniques that minimize damage to sensitive amphibian and reptile populations. I picked up practical tips about maintaining the equipment needed to do prescribed fire and natural areas management.

Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.

Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.


Finally, I spent time learning about building a volunteer program. I want to build a program that gets you connected with the natural areas in your parks and helps you know that when you come out to volunteer, you are making a difference and are an important part of our mission. Jason Frenzel of the Huron River Watershed Council has been managing volunteers for years and led an excellent workshop about designing an effective volunteer program.


Jason Frenzel with the Huron River Watershed Council led an excellent workshop on Results Oriented Volunteer Recruiting.

The best part of the conference was making new friends and connecting with people I hadn’t seen in years. The folks with The Stewardship Network did an excellent job hosting this conference. Their hard work and attention to detail were evident. Thanks!

*Any mention of specific products, people, or services does not imply an endorsement or agreement. I mention them to help you and me focus our learning about natural areas and the processes that make them tick. Let’s learn together!