Dale Ehlers is retiring after 27 years as a soil technician with the Natural Resources and Conservation Service in Marion County, but without a bit of luck, he may never have reached this point.
As a heavy-equipment operator, he was working on a U.S. Soil Conservation project in Jewell County when a tree fell on his cab, pressing his whole body down. He couldn’t breathe, he said, but fortunately the seat gave way and he was able to crawl out of the cab.
“Somebody was riding with me that day,” he said.
After Ehlers reinjured his back in 1987, he was forced to quit and look for another job. That’s when he applied to the government for a NRCS job and ended up in Marion.
Ehlers is impressed with the diversity of soil and landscape in Marion County. He has worked in every corner of the county.
“If there’s a road I haven’t been on, I haven’t found it,” he said.
He works day-to-day with landowners to plan and design soil conservation projects such as waterways, terraces, and diversion ditches. He has a passion for preventing soil erosion.
“The earth has four components — soil, water, plants, and air,” Ehlers said. “It all comes down to the one thing we can control: the soil. If you deplete the soil, you don’t have anything left.”
Ehlers likes the old soil conservation slogan, “We make running water walk.”
He said decreasing the speed at which water runs saves soil.
He noted that what NRCS was doing 25 years ago doesn’t work today because of the size of farm machinery.
“We have to do what works for the landowner,” he said.
He works with projects ranging from a $10 gully fix to million-dollar pollution control facilities for livestock. He knows that what works for one person doesn’t work for the next. Each project is different.
“The hours that Dale has spent bettering Marion County are innumerable,” NRCS secretary Lisa Suderman said. “His commitment to conserving our environment and wildlife has been not only his professional life but also his personal life.”
He is a founding member of the Marion chapter of Quail Forever. He maintains the former Marion County landfill as a site for handicapped and youth hunting. He has constructed blinds, planted food plots and trees, and guided hunters.
He also has provided years of dedication to the handicapped hunt in the wildlife refuge area at Marion Reservoir.
Ehlers was involved in designing the Marion High School practice football field.
He and his wife, Betty, have three children, Matt, Stephanie, and D.J., who are Marion High School graduates. The Ehlers have 10 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.
Ehlers said he isn’t just walking away from his job. He plans to come back as a volunteer or to work on special projects.
“My biggest satisfaction in this job is working with all the different people and having satisfied customers,” he said.
A retirement party for Ehlers will be from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the NRCS office, 301 Eisenhower Drive, Marion.