Whether he’s taking water-quality samples from rivers or working to create permanent prairies and wetlands, James Fett shows a strong passion for conservation work.
Those efforts and numerous achievements have led to Fett – watershed technician for Mower Soil & Water Conservation District – to be honored March 23 as the Employee of the Year for conservation district employees in southeast Minnesota.
On his birthday, Fett was surprised with the honor during the spring meeting of the southeast Minnesota division of the Minnesota Association of Conservation District Employees (MACDE), which includes 11 SWCD offices in the region and an area Joint Powers Board. His coworkers at Mower SWCD nominated him for the honor.
“James is a model SWCD employee,” Mower SWCD manager Cody Fox said. “He has such a passion for conservation and the outdoors, and he easily can talk with anyone. James has an incredible knowledge of trees, shrubs, prairie grasses and flowers along with all things related to water.”
The award recognizes a conservation district employee who has excelled in the past year and has notable accomplishments related to conservation. Mower SWCD employees have received the honor three times since 2002: retired district manager Bev Nordby in 2003; retired conservation technician Rick Morrison in 2010; and office manager Jeanne Crump in 2011.
Southeast Minnesota’s MACDE group includes SWCDs from the counties of Mower, Freeborn, Steele, Dodge, Fillmore, Olmsted, Winona, Rice, Goodhue and Wabasha as well as the Root River SWCD in Houston County.
Fett said he’s excited to receive the regional recognition.
“I credit all my success to the amazing group of work family that I have for support,” Fett said, “and I’m so lucky to have a job that I enjoy so much.”
Fett, who has worked for Mower SWCD for 10 years, also was a big contributor to the accomplishments leading to Mower SWCD being honored in 2021 as the SWCD of the Year by the Minnesota Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts.
He also leads water-quality sampling efforts in the Cedar River watershed in western Mower County and for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s “Field to Stream Partnership” in the Root River watershed in eastern Mower County.
Fett leads Mower SWCD’s annual tree program and efforts to enroll marginal cropland into temporary or permanent conservation easements through the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and MN CREP state-federal program. Since 2017, Fett has helped enroll 670 acres in Mower County into permanent prairie and wetlands through 14 easements via MN CREP.
In recent years, Fett also has led a push to get landowners to install prairie strips via the federal CRP program on their cropland to help with water quality and benefit pollinators.
Fett in the past year also took on the administrative duties for the Turtle Creek Watershed District that is run by Mower SWCD, which also is contracted to administer the Cedar River Watershed District.
Thanks to Fett’s initiative and research, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources this spring will stock 600 rainbow trout for the fourth-straight year in Wolf Creek at Austin’s Todd Park as part of a “put-and-take” fishery. Fett conducted a few years of research that helped him make a successful proposal to the DNR’s fisheries division in Waterville to stock trout in Wolf.