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Earth Day Honorees

Shirly Holt, 2011 Earth Day Honoree2011 South Dakota Resource Award Honoree: Shirly Holt of Lake Cochrane

Shirly Holt is a professional sculptor and an environmental activist living on Lake Cochrane near Gary, South Dakota.

Lake Cochrane became the Holt family’s summer escape in 1977 when her father bought a lot on the east end of the lake. Her husband and seven children would drive from Minneapolis to Lake Cochrane every weekend to assist in the construction of the lake cabin. After her husband, Clayton, retired as an engineer for Honeywell, the Holts permanently moved to the lake. (Clayton is now deceased.) One of the things the Holts have always treasured about the spring-fed Lake Cochrane was how beautiful and clean it was.

The Holts’ love for the environment and Lake Cochrane was tested one afternoon about 20 years ago when Shirly noticed machinery just over the hill from Lake Cochrane on the Minnesota side of the border. The Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water System (LPWRS) was building a large well to supply water to rural customers as far as 40 miles away. This well was being built in the middle of wetlands and fens surrounded by Lake Cochrane and three other lakes. LPRWS was using federal money to support the project. LPRWS had signed off on a federal permit that there were no recreational areas, parks, beaches, shoreline or wetlands in the area that would be affected by the well.

A seven-day pump test drew down the lake and numerous wells in the area. The Holts knew that there are several rare calcareous fens in the area that are also fed by the aquifer and these would be destroyed if the water supply was pumped down.

Over the next several years, the Holts worked with the South Dakota Department of Environment & Natural Resources, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, their local legislators and federal congressmen. The Holts filed documents that showed that the decision to not require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was based on false information. Valuable assistance was provided by former Senator Tom Daschle and Luanne Napton with the South Dakota Resources Coalition. After a long hard fight, the EIS was finally completed. The Environmental Protection Agency required LPRWS to cut back pumping from the design capacity of 1800 gallons per minute to 450 gpm, and to build a new pumping facility that now draws water from another aquifer. Pumping from the original well has now ceased.

During the EIS study, the State of South Dakota put in a culvert that allows water from Lake Oliver to flow into Lake Cochrane. Lake Oliver’s high concentration of phosphorus leads to lower water quality and algae blooms. Shirly has been working on trying to prevent the continued flow of Lake Oliver into Lake Cochrane as she watches the quality of Lake Cochrane water deteriorate.

“Art always has been a part of my life,” says Shirly. “I always admired the beauty that can be found in nature and people.” Shirly, who was born and raised in Canby, Minnesota, attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she studied art. Shirly started doing portrait sculpture because she loves to capture the spirit of the person. Holt has been commissioned to make sculptures of professional athletes, other professionals, historical figures, coaches and children. Her work can be seen in schools, hospitals, and churches. Her sculpture has been shown on local television in Minnesota and South Dakota.

Shirly’s seven children still come to visit at her treasured beautiful Lake Cochrane.

Thomas Dobbs 2010 Earth Day Honoree

2010 South Dakota Resource Award Honoree: Dr. Thomas L. Dobbs of Brookings

Dr. Thomas L. Dobbs of Brookings received the 2010 South Dakota Resource Award.

Dr. Dobbs is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Economics at South Dakota State University (SDSU). Dr. Dobbs retired from SDSU in 2007, after 29 years of service in research, teaching, extension, and international programs roles. His teaching included courses in agricultural policy, resource and environmental economics, and farming and food systems economics.

During 2007 and 2008, Dr. Dobbs was a Kellogg Foundation Food and Society Policy Fellow. His primary writing and speaking focus during that appointment concerned issues related to development and passage of the 2008 Federal farm bill. He also wrote about policy issues related to world food shortages and the near collapse of the American economy.

Dr. Dobbs’ research during the last 20 years of his career at SDSU focused primarily on the economic and policy conditions necessary to foster sustainable farming and food systems. He has devoted attention to agri-environmental policies in the U.S. and the European Union. Dobbs was a Visiting Scholar at the Henry A. Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture in 1993, where he conducted research on policy options for the 1996 U.S. farm bill. In 2000, he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Essex, in England, conducting research on agri-environmental policies in the United Kingdom. Since then, he has also studied agri-environmental policies in France, where he has twice been a short-term Visiting Professor at the École Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Toulouse.

His work has focused on how the multifunctionality agri-environmental policy approaches being used in the European Union might be applied in the U.S. One of the U.S. agri-environmental programs Dobbs conducted research on at SDSU was the Conservation Security Program, which was changed to the Conservation Stewardship Program in the 2008 farm bill.

Dr. Dobbs grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm in eastern South Dakota. His Ph.D. in agricultural economics is from the University of Maryland. His dissertation was based on 1967-68 field research in India on the Green Revolution. Dobbs began his professional career as an Assistant Professor of agricultural economics at the University of Wyoming, and then he joined the Foreign Service as a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) economist in Islamabad, Pakistan and Washington, D.C. After four years with USAID, Dobbs joined the economics faculty at SDSU in 1978.

Dobbs has authored public policy columns for Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Grist, and Treehugger. At present, he writes an ‘Economic Policy Perspective’ column for The Dakota Day.

2009 South Dakota Resource Award honoree:
John Sieh of rural Groton

John SiehJohn Sieh

This Brown County farmer has spent his adult lifetime advancing populist ideals. For him that meant defending rural America against hostile corporations, adversarial elected officials and aggressive bureaucrats.

Sieh achieved statewide recognition during the 1970s battle over the Oahe Irrigation Project. That project would have diverted Missouri River water to irrigate farmland located between Pierre and the James River. The irrigation ditches would have destroyed valuable wetlands and wildlife habitat. Stretches of the James River would have been channelized to handle the irrigation return flows. Farmers were asked to sacrifice their valuable farmland to construction of irrigation ditches so other farmers could benefit. Local farmers and environmentalists realized that the Oahe Project was not only an environmental disaster but also economically unfeasible.

Sieh and others created the United Family Farmers (UFF) to oppose the Oahe Project. When Sieh realized that South Dakota’s business and political establishments were ignoring the well researched arguments of UFF, he figured the way to win was to join the political establishment. Sieh and others sought election to the Oahe Conservancy Sub-district board overseeing the Oahe Irrigation Project. After a tough campaign, Sieh and fellow Oahe opponents won a majority of the seats on the board, and Sieh was elected chairman. After a decade-long battle, Congress finally blocked the Oahe Project in 1982.

John Sieh and UFF Members, 2009 SDRC Earth Day BanquetJohn Sieh and fellow UFF members
at 2009 SDRC Earth Day Banquet

Sieh was instrumental in re-directing state water policy from irrigation to rural water. Under his leadership among locally elected officials, federal funds dedicated to construct open irrigation ditches went to construct a buried pipeline system. This ambitious history-making pipeline system is now the WEB (Walworth-Edmunds-Brown) Rural Water System that serves people, livestock, and small rural communities in a vast region of northeastern SD with clean drinking water from the Missouri River. Subsequently rural water systems throughout South Dakota benefited from the example of the WEB project.

Both victories came against overwhelming odds, and each victory significantly impacted the political, environmental and social landscape of South Dakota, and to a lesser extent, the West.

Along the way John Sieh pushed hard against anyone who stood to exploit the little guy. He is smart, stubborn, fearless, and is known as a tough guy who can speak convincingly.

John Sieh as a prairie populist also has the best interests of land stewardship and environmental ethics in his heart. John and his wife, Leona, reside in Groton.

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