Dean P. Moberg, Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District Director – Candidate Interview
Dean Moberg is a retired soil conservationist who worked for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for thirty-five years. In that time, he helped farmers, ranchers, foresters, and homeowners in three states on projects ranging from one to over 1,000 acres. Now, running for the position of At Large Director for the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District (and ain’t that a mouthful), he took time out to answer a few questions for the voters.
WCD: So, you’re retired now. Shouldn’t you be driving around in a Winnebago or something? Why do you want to take on this new, unpaid challenge instead?
DPM: Ha! Well, when some guys retire, they get a snazzy little red car. Others run for office. I always intended to continue working on conservation issues in retirement. The day after I retired last March, I began volunteer work with USDA to help with their soil health Remove term: Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District Director Tualatin Soil and Water initiative, and also began volunteer work with the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) on their budget committee and oak habitat committee. I’ve been collaborating with the SWCD for twenty-five years, so it felt natural for me to continue. When I retired, I did not initially plan to run for the SWCD Board, but a friend at Clean Water Services called and asked me to serve. He believed I had the best interests of local residents in mind and the experience needed to continue the great work of the SWCD.
WCD: When you worked with USDA, didn’t you develop a program that helped farmers voluntarily plant native trees on over forty miles of stream bank in the Tualatin River watershed?
DPM: Yes. USDA has a program to help farmers plant trees along streams. Stream-side trees help cool the water (good for fish), improve bird and pollinator habitat, and filter out pollutants before they reach the water. Fifteen years ago, farmers were interested in this program, but they told us they just couldn’t afford to participate because the minimal USDA funding just didn’t pencil out for them. A colleague at USDA proposed partnering with Clean Water Services, the local agency that treats wastewater in the county. As it turned out, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was about to require Clean Water Services to cool the effluent water coming out of their sewage plants. Clean Water was already doing a remarkable job removing phosphorus and bacteria from the wastewater, but the effluent was too warm. Engineering solutions, like cooling towers or refrigeration, would cost Clean Water ratepayers a lot of money and would require huge amounts of energy. In lieu of those costly solutions, Clean Water, USDA, and the SWCD proposed working together to plant enough trees to cool the water even more than DEQ required. DEQ agreed with this idea and our team spent about a year hammering out the details, including talking with farmers about what was needed. In the end, we developed a program that saved ratepayer money, was economically sustainable for farmers, and ecologically sustainable for the watershed. Through this program, farmers have voluntarily planted over forty-four miles of stream-bank in Washington County to native trees and shrubs. This was the first program of its kind in the nation and now other areas are trying to duplicate our efforts.
WCD: In light of the recent forest fires, what do you think are the chief conservation problems facing Washington County, and how would you approach them?
DPM: Climate change is the critical conservation problem we face. We need to continue to help people plant trees and cover crops to take carbon out of the atmosphere and put it back into the soil where it belongs. We also need to focus on planting diverse forests. Diverse forests are more resilient to forest fires and are also good for wildlife habitat. We also need to help family foresters thin their forests to make them more resistant to wildfire. Finally, we need to help people plan now for the climate of the future, which means choosing the right trees to plant and conserving water in both rural and urban areas.
WCD: Okay, but why you? Kieran Sikdar and Casey Storey are your opponents. What can you bring to the table that they can’t?
DPM: John McDonald was a Director of the SWCD for about twenty-five years, but he just retired and left this seat vacant. If John was staying, I wouldn’t be running because I have great respect for him. Kieran and Casey are both good conservationists. But, I’ve worked with the SWCD since 1993 and I know its history, programs, and staff. I have invested years developing strong partnerships with local farmers, foresters, agencies, non-profits, and small businesses. Building and maintaining effective partnerships is the most efficient use of taxpayer money, and it’s the best way to help people voluntarily conserve natural resources.
WCD: That sounds great. But before we close, is there anything you wish I’d asked?
DPM: My motivation is to help the SWCD stay on a positive trajectory and continue helping people help the land. But we are at a critical moment in America for advancing Civil Rights. We need to ensure that SWCD programs are based on justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. That requires having historically underserved people at the table to help develop programs to address 21st Century problems like climate change, loss of pollinator and songbird habitat, wildfires, and loss of family farms and forests. These folks will bring fresh perspectives and creative, practical ideas to help solve the critical conservation problems we face. Certainly, we have many white family farms and forests, but we also have Hispanic, Asian-American, Indian, and Black farmers. Plus, we have energetic beginning farmers. And, although the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon have headquarters and reservation land in Polk County, they maintain an eternal interest in the lands of the Tualatin River Watershed. We need to reach out to the Tribe and ask for their help and wisdom in developing solutions to address natural resource problems here in Washington County.
WCD: Good point. Well, sir, it’s been a pleasure.
DPM: Thank you.
Learn more about Dean Moberg, Candidate for Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District Director, at his campaign website.