COLCHESTER, Vt. — USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Vicky Drew recently announced that she will retire from federal service in July after nearly 38 years. Fifteen of those year years were in Vermont, where she helped secure millions of dollars of federal assistance to help farmers and land users protect and improve water quality in Lake Champlain. In her role as state conservationist, she led a staff of 73 employees, located in 11 offices throughout Vermont, and managed an annual operating budget of more than $23 million.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the most senior member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, said, “I am happy for Vicky as she retires from a career of which she can be very proud. Vermont is losing the best state conservationist in the country. Vicky saw to it that USDA led the way implementing innovative practices at a time of intense focus on agricultural water quality impacts. Not only a great leader, but an excellent listener, Vicky understood that conservation is an all-in, collaborative enterprise, and that farmers should always be at the table.” He also noted that through her leadership over $100 million was allocated through NRCS to support conservation work by Vermont farmers and foresters. “She has also supported and built the capacity of water quality partners and I have often turned to Vicky for information and counsel, impacting both the 2014 and the 2018 Farm Bills. I am sorry to see Vicky go, but proud of her work in Vermont,” he concluded.
Her career as a conservationist began in 1983 as a student at the University of Georgia. She was one of four women hired as a student intern for USDA. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BS in Agronomy, with an emphasis in Soil Science/Soil Conservation. After graduation, she worked as a soil conservationist in Georgia and then transferred to Rhode Island where she was promoted to District Conservationist. She says one of the most rewarding experiences of her career was in 1997 when she helped create the Rhode Island Rural Lands Coalition. “This coalition helped change the tax law for rural landowners in Rhode Island and the experience showed me that partnership can result in meaningful change,” she explained.
Growing up in Eagle Mountain, California, a small mining town, she was one of 34 in her high school graduating class. She says her love and appreciation for natural resources and conservation is due in part to her experience growing up in Eagle Mountain. “My mom instilled in me a deep sense of appreciation for the natural world around me and my dad taught me the value of hard work and standing up for what you believe in, and more than anything, to always try to do your best.”
Today, she lives in Georgia, Vermont, with her husband Greg and daughter Madison who will graduate and head off to college this fall. Vicky grows food in her home garden and enjoys hiking and rowing as a team member of the Dragonheart Vermont Soul Sisters boating crew. “I am looking forward to spending more time with these amazing women who are all fellow breast cancer survivors, and demonstrate the values of strength, courage, and perseverance, each and every day.”
Throughout her career, she helped secure conservation easements on over 300 farms. This includes helping protect and improve water and soil quality in Vermont’s Otter Creek wetlands complex, where several thousands of acres of critical wildlife habitat are now permanently protected.
She also helped create the Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership (VAWQP) in partnership with Jill Arace, Executive Director of the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD). “Vicky brought together the leaders of key agencies and organizations that support Vermont farmers in their efforts to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources. Her vision, knowledge, and dedication to a science-based approach – as well as her commitment to collaboration – inspired us to work together thoughtfully and deliberately to improve the quality of our services and expand our impact. Without her leadership, we would not have accomplished all that we have,” said Arace.
The VAWQP ensures close coordination of efforts across federal, state, and non-profit agencies and organizations to result in a more strategic approach to conservation implementation. The partnership 2020 annual report indicated significant reductions in phosphorus loading from agriculture .
From helping farmers address critical water quality challenges, to altering program policies that ensured equitable program access for underserved customers, her legacy and impact on protecting and improving natural resources will carry on for generations.
–USDA NRCS Vermont
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