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Eric Eckl, Owner — Eric founded Water Words That Work, LLC and oversees all the company’s client projects. Eric has more than 20 years experience planning and executing environmental outreach and communications programs. Eric is a sought-after conference speaker and has appeared on CNN and been quoted in the New York Times. Before starting the firm, Eric worked for Beaconfire Consulting, American Rivers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Environmental Law Institute.

Email: Phone: 800.861.6012 x6

Make a splash with your words and pictures! Relearn the language that everyday citizens use and become more confident and successful with your water outreach. This recently updated course draws on an in-depth national assessment of public attitudes and provides unique insights into the messages turn your audience on, and off.

  • Part 1. The Perils of Preaching to the Choir. Learn how and why most environmental messages fail to connect. After completing this training, you will be able to spot the signs of “preaching to the choir” and recognize when you are sending messages that miss the mark or aggravate your audience.
  • Part 2. The Environmental Message Method, Steps 1-4. Learn to transform professional level conservation writing into messages that are suitable for everyday citizens. You will learn steps 1-4 of the “Environmental Message Method:” Begin With Behavior, Foolproof Photos, Swap the Shoptalk, and the Words That Work.

David Thoreson– David is the Senior Advisor, Geoversiv Foundation (  Presentation Title: Beyond Lawsuits and Resistance: Imagining a New Midwestern Landscape.  The state of Iowa has survived a few tumultuous years with many of the same urban and rural divides that are being witnessed in states across America. Solving Iowa’s water and soil erosion issues will be key elements to the economic stability of Iowa’s future. Rewarding good stewardship and reimagining the landscape should lead the way.

Thoreson is an Explorers Club Fellow and recent participant in the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize Forum. His personal climate story has just been documented in a new book, “Over the Horizon: Exploring the Edges of a Changing Planet.”  More info at

Doug Peterson — has been an NRCS employee for over 29 years. He started his career as a Soil Scientist. He has been a District Conservationist in both a grassland based county in south Missouri and a large cropland county in north Missouri. He has also been a State Grassland Conservationist and a State Soil Health Specialist. Currently he is a Regional Soil Health Specialist for Missouri and Iowa teaching NRCS staff and producers around the mid-west about soil health, how it impacts virtually all natural resource processes, and what type of management it will take to effectively improve our soils health, function and productivity.

He attended college at Missouri Western State University graduating in 1986 with a B.S. degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in Economics and Agronomy.

He grew up on a crop and livestock farm near Newtown in north Missouri.  Today he continues to operate a cow/calf and contract grazing operation with his father, Steve.  Currently they run about 350 cows. They utilize Management-intensive Grazing and Holistic High Density Grazing to improve soil health, eliminate the need for most purchased fertilizer and limit hay needs to about one bale per cow per winter.

Doug’s NRCS training coupled with his real world hands on experience make him a unique speaker that is relatable to both agency personnel and producers.

Dr. John Holz — earned a PhD in Aquatic Ecology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1998 and then served as a professor there for 11 years. John still has adjunct professor status at UNL, in part to keep access to Husker football tickets. He is a Limnologist with more than 22 years of experience in surface water quality and aquatic habitat management and research. With FYRA, John has served as project manager and senior scientist on numerous lake and watershed restoration projects. He has extensive experience with in-lake restoration techniques, nutrient inactivation, water quality goal determination, water quality monitoring and modeling, internal phosphorus loading, TMDLs and lake phosphorus dynamics.

Kim Bogenschutz —  Kim received a BA in Biology from Gustavus Adolphus College and an MS in Fisheries Science from South Dakota State University.  She has worked in Minnesota, Indiana, and Iowa and has been the Aquatic Invasive Species Program Coordinator for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources since 2000. Kim is vice-chair of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Invasive Species Committee, served as chair of the Mississippi River Basin Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS), is on the Executive Committee of the Midwest Invasive Plant Network, and is a member of the federal ANS Task Force.

Presentation Title: Aquatic Invasive Species in Iowa: Current and Emerging Threats Presentation Description (app. 40 words): This presentation will profile the identification, distribution, and impacts of some of the aquatic invasive species already found in Iowa (e.g., Eurasian watermilfoil, brittle naiad, curlyleaf pondweed, purple loosestrife, zebra mussels, Bighead and Silver Carp) and other species threatening to spread into Iowa (e.g., starry stonewort, hydrilla, Brazilian waterweed, salt cedar).

Melissa Miller — Melissa is the Associate Director of the Iowa Water Center at Iowa State University. She is currently completing her masters in community development and natural resource management and has focused her graduate work on defining watersheds as a community. Melissa is technically a farmer’s wife, although she’s not allowed to touch the farm equipment. She and her husband live in rural Central Iowa with their three daughters.

In 2010, the Iowa legislature authorized the creation of Watershed Management Authorities (WMAs), intended to bring together multiple communities for watershed planning. The first WMAs formed in 2012, and there are now approximately 20 (and counting) in the state. This session will explore the purpose of WMAs and how they’re different from other watershed groups; describe how to form a WMA; and provide lessons learned from existing WMAs in our efforts to improve natural resource management on a watershed scale.

Diane Ercse — Diane is an Iowa Sate University graduate in Agronomy-Ecology. Prior to Iowa Soybean Association employment, Diane worked as and Environmental and Agronomic Consult in Iowa, specializing in Manure Management Planning for large feeding operation owners. Currently working the last two years as a Watershed Coordinator in Elk Run watershed in Carroll, Sac, and Calhoun counties.

Watershed Planning- Examples in Action: The watershed approach is growing momentum in the state. Watershed plans have been developed by Iowa Soybean Association to guide initiatives across the state. These plans help to develop a road map to success in watershed improvements, improve efficiency in resource use and guide coordinators in making precise funding requests. A local example provided and opportunities farmers have benefited from.

Andrew Stephenson and Mitch Avery — Mitch Avery has worked as a Project Coordinator at the Center for Social and Behavioral Research since 2013. He received his B.A. in Economics in 2010 and his Masters of Public Policy in 2013, both from the University of Northern Iowa.

Andrew Stephenson joined the Center for Social and Behavioral Research as a Project Coordinator in Spring 2015. He also serves as the Agroecology Technical Advisory Group Coordinator for the Eastern Tallgrass Prairie and Big Rivers Landscape Conservation Cooperative. He received a B.A. in Anthropology and French from Grinnell College and an M.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Sustainable Agriculture from Iowa State University.

This presentation highlights findings from a post-project evaluation of the Lyons Creek Watershed Project that investigated the key factors associated with the low participation rate in the project, to help inform future development and implementation of watershed projects.

Dr. Mary Skopec — is the Executive Director of Iowa Lakeside Laboratory: Regents Resource Center. Lakeside Lab is an Iowa Board of Regents campus dedicated to education of post-secondary students, research on aquatic systems and terrestrial landscapes, and community engagement on environmental topics.  Prior to joining Lakeside Lab in December of 2016, Dr. Skopec worked with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in a variety of roles including directing the statewide water quality monitoring program, the beach monitoring program and IOWATER (citizen-based volunteer monitoring).

Harmful algal blooms have been documented in Iowa since the 1940’s.  Improvements in wastewater treatment around lake systems are credited with reducing the severity of blooms, but recent data suggests that Iowa is losing ground in protecting lake systems against HABs.  This presentation highlights these trends and suggest reasons for the recent upswing as well as possible preventative measures.

Mike Hawkins — Mike has a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from the University of Dubuque and a Master’s Degree in Fisheries Science from South Dakota State University.  Mike is an Iowa native and grew up on dairy farm in northeast Iowa.

Since 2007 Mike has worked as a Fisheries Management Biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.  Mike is responsible for leading efforts to protect and improve fishing opportunities for Iowa’s anglers through improvements to water quality, habitat, and watersheds.  He is also responsible for developing stocking and harvest regulations to further protect and enhance fisheries populations in his nine county district.  His work focuses on developing strong relationships with communities and other partners to protect and enhance our water resources.  Mike has worked with Fisheries Bureau of the Iowa DNR since 1996.  Prior to his current position Mike was a Fisheries Research Biologist working on Iowa’s natural lakes.

John Hiebert –  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – Lake Habitat Consultant

John grew up fishing on the lakes and streams in northern Minnesota and this is where he developed his interest in fish and lakes.  John earned a degree in Fisheries Biology from the University of Minnesota and attended the University of Missouri for Graduate School.  He has worked for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for 25 years as a field biologist, overseeing a shoreline restoration grant program and currently as the statewide lake habitat program coordinator.  From his work he identified the value of aquatic habitat to lakes and streams and their associated biological communities and the need for this message to be shared with other governmental agencies and the public at large.

Mike Shannon — Mike has over 30 years of experience in wetland management and waterfowl ecology in such diverse locations as Louisiana, California, Colorado and Missouri. He has worked for a variety of state and federal agencies and private organizations to help improve our understanding of waterfowl and wetland ecology.  Mike has worked for Ducks Unlimited for nearly 20 years, protecting and restoring habitat for wetland wildlife.  For the last 5 years, he has led DU’s conservation efforts in Iowa, working with a multitude of partners to enhance Iowa’s shallow lakes and prairie wetlands.

DU’s Living Lakes Initiative protects and enhances shallow lakes and large marshes throughout the Prairie Pothole Region of central Iowa and Minnesota. Mike’s presentation will discuss the science and innovative engineering solutions used to restore productivity to these valuable wetlands, thus improving fish and wildlife habitat, water quality and recreation opportunities.

Matt O’Connor — Matt has worked for USF&WS, Iowa State University, Iowa DNR, and County Conservation Boards across Iowa.  For the past 28 years Pheasants Forever has been his home office, first as a volunteer, next as the North Iowa Regional Biologist, and most recently as the head of Habitat Forever LLC, a Pheasants Forever company.  Matt supervises 31 Habitat Specialist building habitat across the upper Midwest.

Wildlife and water relationship is dynamic and very important for a thriving ecosystem.  The decisions made by a wildlife manager to improve nesting for bobolinks, ducks, or pheasants has greatly impacted NW Iowa.  Water resources and economic resources have improved because of wildlife.



John Royster — John Royster is a professional landscape architect who works extensively within green stormwater infrastructure design. In this role, John serves as a champion for natural systems, educates engineers and agency administrators that rainwater is an asset, and finds time to fly-fish and mountain bike. John is the President & CEO of Big Muddy Workshop, Inc. in Omaha. Big Muddy provides landscape architecture, master planning and green infrastructure design services.

During this interactive session, participants will examine how we what call precipitation affects the public’s perception of this resource. We will discuss approaches that help the public better understand stormwater issues. We will suggest ways that stormwater professionals can make what we do understandable to others.

Mike Steuck — Mike Steuck has a varied and extensive background with the Iowa DNR and is currently the Northeast Regional Fisheries Supervisor where he oversees management of the cold and warmwater fisheries resources in 15 counties, including two fisheries management teams and three trout hatcheries. A native of Dubuque, Mike is an avid angler, targeting walleye, crappie and trout every chance he gets. Mike has a passion for Iowa’s natural resources and strives to continually protect and improve natural resources and angling opportunities in Iowa.

Over half of Iowans visit Iowa’s 16,000 miles of rivers and streams generating over $824 million dollars annually.  Habitat improvement on these water bodies is beneficial to Iowans in many different ways.  Water quality plus habitat equals healthy aquatic communities.  The components of habitat improvement work best when implemented together.  Rivers are part of a system and diversity is the key.  Fish are an indicator of successful habitat improvement and can be used to to evaluate the benefits of improvement projects.

Joe McGovern — Joe McGovern is beginning his fifth year as President of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. He considers it both an honor and a privilege to work with the dynamic board, staff and volunteers of this statewide, nonprofit conservation organization that works passionately to protect and restore Iowa’s land, water and wildlife.

Prior to this leadership role, Joe was engaged in natural land management and restoration – serving 5 years with Story County Conservation then 14 years as Land Stewardship Director for INHF. He’s a proud graduate of Iowa State University in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology.

With 97% of Iowa in private ownership, it is imperative that landowners are aware of all the tools available to them to help solve our water quality issues. Joe will share information about voluntary land protection tools for Iowa landowners and the potentially significant tax benefits that could accrue for those who permanently protect their land to enhance water quality, outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat and/or open space for public benefit.

Mike Sotak – FYRA Engineering — Mike earned a BS in Civil Engineering in 1992 and a MBA in 2001, both from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a Professional Engineer with more than 26 years of experience in water resources engineering. Mike has served as a field, design and project manager on several structural watershed improvement projects and has been involved with the design and construction of over 100 dams. He has extensive experience in watershed planning, economic analyses, levee certification and dam design. Mike has also worked with grant writing and funding program identification on several projects.

Mike’s presentation will focus on Nebraska NRDs and how Iowa WMAs can learn from the successes and past challenges of the development, on-going operations and planned futures of these very similar entities.

Julie Blackburn — Ms. Blackburn has over 20 years of experience working in a leadership capacity in lake and watershed protection, water resource management, and providing overall strategic management of natural resource programs. Currently Minnesota Area Manager for RESPEC, Ms. Blackburn previously was Assistant Director for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources as well as administrator of two watershed districts in Minnesota. Ms. Blackburn has a M.S. in Systems Ecology from the State University of New York – College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Lake of the Woods (LOW) is a relatively shallow, massive lake that covers 1,485 mi 2 in Minnesota and Canada. LOW is impaired by excess nutrients and experiences algal blooms through autumn. Research on internal loading mechanisms and calculations may be useful for understanding other shallow lakes.

Suzan Erem — Suzan Erem graduated from the University of Iowa in the 1980s and planned to settle in Iowa until marriage and work pulled her out of state. She returned 20 years later to discover diversified family farming nearly gone. In response, she and 25 of Iowa’s most respected leaders in sustainable agriculture, planning and development, co-founded the Sustainable Iowa Land Trust. In its first two and a half years, SILT has acquired 4 farms and is on track to protect two more by the end of 2017.

As Iowa’s newest land trust, SILT is diversifying the state’s landscape through agricultural conservation easements that require nature-friendly food production. SILT farms are designed to improve water and soil quality while providing affordable land access to new farmers, increasing the region’s fresh food supply and aiding retiring farmers in transferring their land.

David Archer — Dr. David Archer is a Research Agriculturist and Research Leader of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory (NGPRL) in Mandan, North Dakota. His research focus is on economic performance and sustainability of agricultural systems, evaluating economic risks and returns, and quantifying tradeoffs between economic and environmental impacts of agricultural systems. His research has included a wide range of systems including strip-tillage and no-till systems, diverse rotations, cover crops, organic systems, biofeedstock production, and integrated crop-livestock systems. He has authored/co-authored more than 70 scientific publications. Dr. Archer received his B.S. degree in Mathematics from Rocky Mountain College, and his Ph.D. degree in Agricultural Economics from Iowa State University.

Producers will be much more likely to make investments in soil health if they see economic benefits from these investments. Several long-term field research projects are summarized looking at the impacts of tillage, crop rotation, cover cropping, and livestock grazing on soil health indicators and farm-level economic risks and returns.

Ben Wallace — Ben Wallace is a fisheries biologist for the Iowa DNR in the Black Hawk District.  He received his B.S. in Animal Ecology from Iowa State University and M.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Science from North Carolina State University.

Fishery managers de-watered Swan Lake in an effort to improve panfish size structure and water quality.  This presentation will discuss the methods, successes, and setbacks associated with the project.

Jan Voit — Jan Voit is a southern Minnesota native. She attended Heron Lake elementary and high schools, graduating from Heron Lake-Okabena High School. Following high school, she enrolled in the court reporting course at Jackson Area Vocational Technical College and graduated as a legal stenographer. After graduating from high school, she started work with the HLWD. She has worked for the HLWD for 34 years and is now the District Administrator. She and her husband Duane have been married for 32 years. They live on the family farm in Southbrook Township, Cottonwood County. Duane is actively engaged in a corn and soybean farming operation. Their three children are married. Her two sons and their wives live in Heron Lake. Her daughter, husband, and their two children live in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

The Heron Lake Watershed District was established in 1970. The focus was primarily on flood control. This presentation will provide a brief overview of the Heron Lake watershed and projects undertaken to improve water quality and wildlife habitat.

Joe Bischoff — Joe is a Principal Limnologist with Wenck Associates, Inc. based in the Twin Cities. Joe’s work focuses primarily on lake restoration and geoengineering, with a focus on shallow lakes and lake sediment chemistry.

Aluminum sulfate has been used in lakes for decades to reduce internal phosphorus release from sediments. However, there are still common misconceptions about the use of alum in lakes, its safety, and its long-term effectiveness. This presentation addresses these misconceptions, summarizes the current science, and offers suggestions on how these issues can be addressed when considering the use of alum in lakes.

Amy Crouch — Amy wants to live in a world filled with abundant nature, guiltless chocolate, and enough time to do everything her heart desires.

A graduate of Buena Vista University, she’s worked for many different conservation agencies to improve water quality and wildlife habitat in northwest Iowa. She is the driving force behind the Little Sioux Watershed Conservation Partnership and the Little Sioux Grazing Network. She also spends time working on land management and protection issues with partners, private landowners, and anyone who shows even a vague interest.

When she’s not busy saving the world, you can find her chasing chickens, herding cats, or searching sandbars for elusive shark’s teeth.

She and her husband, Steve, have many adventures on their small, diversified farm near Remsen where they raise several crops, cattle, laying hens, vegetables, cats, and dogs.

Dr. Charles Ikenberry is the Water Quality Discipline Lead for FYRA Engineering in Des Moines, Iowa.  Charles has over 18 years of experience in water resources engineering and watershed and water quality modeling. While at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Charles was responsible for all aspects of Total Maximum Daily Load and Water Quality Improvement Plan development, including identification of pollutant sources, quantification of pollutant loads, development of implementation and monitoring plans, and public and stakeholder outreach. He frequently collaborated with other Clean Water Act programs and provided technical guidance to stakeholders for effective implementation of BMPs to reduce nonpoint source pollutant loads to Iowa’s surface waters.  In 2016, Charles completed his doctorate in Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University, where he focused on improving the simulation of hydrology and nutrient transport in tile-drained landscapes and CREP wetlands.  Charles and his wife Kristen live on a small homestead near Runnells, Iowa, with their 5 children.

Mr. Beck is a geochemist with Wenck Associates. His work focuses on sediment geochemistry, water quality modeling, and contaminant fate and transport. Mr. Beck graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2012 with an M.S. where he studied the influence of sulfate on mercury methylation and wild rice.



Funded, in part, by the Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program (REAP CEP).  Resource Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP):  Invest in Iowa, our outdoors, our heritage, our people.  REAP is supported by the state of Iowa, providing funding to public and private partners for natural and cultural resources projects, including water quality, wildlife habitat, soil conservation, parks, trails, historic preservation, and more.