Article by Kirsten Zoellner – Fillmore County Journal
Fillmore County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is a long-standing organization striving to promote natural resource stewardship through educational, technical and financial assistance. Led by staff and a board focusing on various aspects of conservation and stewardship, it offers programs and services in soil health, water management, grazing and nutrient management, windbreaks and buffers, well testing and sealing, tree sales, rain barrels, and more. Last month, the district welcomed administrator Riley Buley. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role and is eager to be a part of the work.
Growing up in Mankato, Buley enjoyed the outdoors, particularly fishing area lakes with his father. His interest in Minnesota’s water put him on his future path early. A high school science fair project on damaging algal blooms plaguing an area lake led to a nomination for the 2011 International Science and Engineering Fair. “From there, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in water resources,” he says.
Earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aquatic biology from University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, he participated in research in the Driftless Region and the Upper Mississippi River Basin. His academic pursuits didn’t end there. Buley earned his doctoral degree in fisheries, aquaculture, and aquatic sciences at Auburn University.
Returning to the midwest, he worked with tribal governments in Iowa and Wisconsin, managing watershed projects, completing wetland and waterway permitting, and grant and staff management in natural resources. “Many of these projects included assisting landowners in completing aspects permitting and implementing conservation best management practices,” he notes. He also spent four years with the U.S. Geological Survey in La Crosse, Wis., focused on water and aquatic research.
“My wife and I really enjoy the Driftless region and we wanted to put down roots in the area. I saw the posting for the district administrator position with the SWCD and felt that there couldn’t be a better position to apply for. I feel really grateful to be able to work in a field I am passionate about in an area I really enjoy,” he enthuses. “In conservation programs such as the SWCDs, you get to take a hands-on approach on fixing conservation issues such as water quality and soil loss, and I enjoy it.”
Buley acknowledges the transition has been a learning process, but he is eager to take it on. “Being new to the position, I am learning the needs of our area residents and what conservation practices the SWCD can utilize to best help serve them,” he says. “Natural resource management is not a one-size-fits-all approach and I am learning as quickly as possible what methods we can use to best serve the public.”
Stepping up to keep projects moving forward, existing SWCD staff have proven a great boon to the transition and Buley’s got nothing but praise for them and their work.
“The district is truly involved in many projects ranging from soil health and manure management to watershed planning that spans the entirety of the Root River. They are happy to contribute to a range of projects, which is great to see. I am looking forward to seeing how we can continue to provide excellent service to area residents,” he adds. “One thing I have noticed is that my staff and board members are great at assisting individuals to find the conservation answers they are looking for. If our SWCD cannot help you, we will work with you to find someone who can.”
Buley’s also keen to both grow the district’s abilities. “It’s easy to see I am passionate about water resources and I look forward to playing a part in protecting the water resources of the region.” Trained as a researcher, Buley believes district conservation can expand research oriented-projects. “I am looking forward to promoting the projects we perform in this unique region to the rest of the state,” he adds.
“I really can’t highlight enough how excited I am to be back in the Driftless region. There is something about this area that you can feel when you are here,” says Buley. “I think this area is a great testament to how excellent conservation programs promote and preserve stunning natural resources. I am really looking forward to being a part of this work.
For more information about the SWCD and available programs, including the annual tree sale aimed at assisting landowners with trees for conservation purposes at an affordable rate, contact the office at (507) 765-3878 or visit www.fillmoreswcd.org.