Preparing Future Generations of Water Decision-Makers

By: Rebecca Power

Aldo Leopold looms large in the modern conservation movement. His influence is felt deeply in my home state of Wisconsin, where – in 1939 – he founded the new discipline of wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lent his expertise to America’s first watershed project in Coon Valley.
I had the privilege of meeting his youngest daughter, Estella, earlier this month at the Aldo Leopold Foundation‘s Building a Land Ethic conference in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Estella is an accomplished paleobotanist and conservationist in her own right. During the conference, we saw many photos of the Leopold family out at “the shack,” a rustically renovated chicken coop on a worn-out farm about an hour north of Madison. The family used the shack as a basecamp for hunting, archery, keeping phenology records, relaxation away from the pressures of city life, and practicing conservation.
One of the striking impressions those photographs made on me was seeing both men and women with boots on, carrying axes, saws, bows, guns, shovels, musical instruments, making breakfast, and perched atop the roof of the shack fixing the chimney. The Leopolds brought a holistic view to their family life as well as to conservation. And we have evidence that their approach bore fruit, with all the Leopold children having successful careers in the natural sciences and more importantly, life-enriching relationships with the natural world.
Many studies over the past 10 years have documented the value that being in nature has for human development and well being, particularly for our kids.  The North Central Region Water Network has recently worked with youth and water educators from across the region to form a Youth Water Working Group. Extension is leading and partnering on several strong programs engaging youth in science, technology, engineering, and math skills related to water (e.g. Water Rocks, the GRAND Learning Network, and the national4-H Soil and Water Science curriculum). The work group is developing 1) an online list of these resources and their characteristics, and 2) a white paper outlining regional priorities for youth water programming in the North Central Region. When complete, this white paper will be shared with Extension educators, specialists, and administrators. Our hope is that it will be used to support future multi-state collaboration related to youth water programming.
Preparing future generations of decision-makers to address water resource management challenges is an important part of Extension’s commitment to life-long learning and a systems approach to water education and research.  For more on how Extension is assisting today’s decision-makers, please read Joe Bonnell’s piece on an Ohio State University Extension program that is helping Ohio farmers improve nutrient use efficiency and improve water quality.