10 with Conservation Services recognized for forage and grassland certification


Ten specialists with the WVCA’s Division of Conservation Services are now recognized as Certified Forage and Grassland Professionals, as recognized by the American Forage and Grassland Council.

This spring, conservation specialists Russell Kidwell, Mike McMunigal, Sigrid Teets, Barbie Elliott, Amy Henry, Caitlin Black, Russell Young, John Nelson and Kaitlyn Murphy completed the certification.

They join Conservation Specialist Dennis Burns, who has held the certification for several years.

Director of Conservation Services Jennifer Skaggs noted that there’s a lot of smart and hard-working people on staff in Conservation Services, and that the recognition for the certification is well-deserved.

“Going through this certification process has allowed a level of recognition that we may not always have [received],” she said. “So that’s been really nice and a source of pride for us and for all of them individually, too, that they achieved that certification and then can be recognized for it.”    

McMunigal, now the Conservation Services Manager South for the WVCA, took part in many hours of studying, training and problem-solving to achieve the certification.

“From an industry standpoint, it certainly is very meaningful and obviously provides a standard and a level of competence among folks in the field that they have this certification, and they know what they’re doing,” he said.

He said the certification program was broad and went beyond mastery of topics like grazing and foraging, although those were emphasized.

“It’s a great program, I think, because it encompasses a lot of what conservation specialists typically do on a daily basis in the field,” he said. “It really covered more than just grazing-related topics … and I think it’s a great program, a great certification for us as an Agency and us as a section to have, because it really provides some of that broad background on various topics.”

The focus areas for the certification were vegetative management, animal management, conservation planning on grasslands or grazing lands, pasture condition assessment, the economics of forage and grassland management, and grassland soil management, soil quality, erosion control and fertility management.

“This was a year-and-a-half-long process in terms of attending the in-person trainings all the way to the exam part of it,” Skaggs said.

The conservation specialists also will need to keep up on continuing education units to keep the certification valid.   

“I’m really proud that staff took the time to attend the trainings and then the studying that they did on their own,” said Cindy Shreve, the Conservation Services Manager North for WVCA. “I think maybe teleworking helped a little bit with that as well.”

She said that although there was other work to be done, the conservation specialists focused a lot on studying for their exams, taking practice exams, and helping each other out.   

“There were several Skype calls that staff took part in just amongst themselves to help work through math problems and other study materials that they needed assistance with,” Cindy said.

Mike was impressed with the buy-in he saw from everybody who was working toward the certification.

“Everybody saw the usefulness and the importance of this certification and that was apparent, especially as we got down toward the end and it came crunch time to start buckling down and studying for it.”

He was on some of the Skype calls that popped up organically, where the conservation specialists reached out to each other and studied for the certification and helped each other out through the process.

Certain conservation specialists were comfortable with the math problems while others were strong at memorizing other aspects of the study materials, he said.

“That was some of the neat things about getting together on the Skype calls with each other,” he said. “You could kind of pick each other’s brain and get some tips and pointers from various folks on how to tackle things. That was kind of neat to see.”

Teleworking also provided staff with a situation where they could dedicate more time to the certification process, without having various distractions that come with being in the office, Cindy said.

“Everybody seemed very receptive and very interested in the training, and … it was really a comprehensive training, so even beyond the certification that’s really going to help them in their jobs,” she said.

West Virginia University Extension Service and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service had an agreement in place to carry out the trainings and the certification process, Jennifer said.  

Mike reached out to Ben Goff, Ed Rayburn and Tom Basden with West Virginia University Extension Service and told them how much he appreciated their efforts in putting together a successful training program.

“It really was a concerted effort and a lot of work on their part to put together this training,” he said. “In between the trainings it was a lot of good communication from them just on material we needed, stuff we needed to be looking at, and working on between the trainings.

“Ben Goff in particular had multiple Zoom meetings with folks where we’d get together for an hour or so and have some prep-type exercises to work through with him, and there were just a lot of behind-the-scenes work and effort put in,” he said.  

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