Greg Cleereman has spent a lifetime enjoying nature, but the drive to make a difference is what pushed him into going back to school at age 30 and led to him becoming Marinette County Conservationist. We asked Greg to tell us a little about himself, his 17 years of experience in Marinette County, and his thoughts on the future of Wisconsin conservation.
What drew you to Conservation work?
A life time spent enjoying nature, combined with wanting to make a difference. I briefly attended college right out of high school but returned at age thirty. It was while working part time at WDNR during college that I learned about entities called Land Conservation Departments. The county level provides the program flexibility to succeed on an ever changing conservation landscape. It is very satisfying to say “yes” to people seeking help, find creative solutions to their problems and see the results of our labor.
What previous experience/education prepared you for your position as County Conservationist?
I have a BS degree from UW-Green Bay in Environmental Science with minors in Chemistry and Regional Analysis. I have completed the coursework for a MS in Environmental Science and Policy. Prior to returning to college at age thirty, I worked for seven years in the hotel industry. While still in college, I worked at the WDNR for four years in the Water Resources Management Program and other areas. My first job at Marinette County was Water Quality Program Manager tasked with getting the Middle Peshtigo Thunder Rivers Priority Watershed program underway.
What committee or positions have you held with WI Land+Water committees/positions?
I am currently the Vice Chair/Secretary for the WI Land+Water Legislative/Administrative Committee, and serve on the Outreach and Professional Improvement Committees. Prior to the merger I was on the WALCE BOD. I also served on several Ad Hoc committees.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I am working on a Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant application, implementing an invasive species control project in partnership with WDNR and Ducks Unlimited, trying to get a set of bows through the National Archery in the Schools program for local youth, helping the USF7WS restore 2400 feet of stream channel on a trout stream and performing herbicide treatments on invasive species.
I also assist staff with agricultural BMP installations, controlling invasive species, and providing educational programs. In my spare time, I manage the finances of our division, attend meetings of the several organizations, and work with WI Land+Water to keep our local program viable.
What project are you most proud of?
The Teaching Outdoor Awareness and Discovery (TOAD) program is the heart of our educational efforts. TOAD started in 2001 with a modest 26 programs delivered to1461 individuals. In 2013, 5,139 people attended 174 TOAD programs. TOAD is a collection of nature study and monitoring equipment LWCD staff bring anywhere within Marinette County. One full set of equipment, shared by all eight school districts, is the smartest use of limited funds and resources. Home school groups, scouts, 4H, UW-Marinette events, and adult groups also utilize TOAD programs.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I like being an early adopter of new programs and trying out new ways of solving old problems. I also really like developing and delivering new educational programs for kids. Building appreciation for nature in young people now is the only way to ensure land and water resources will be protected in the future.
What does the future of Wisconsin conservation look like?
Although the future looks bleak right now, WI Land+Water is taking several positive steps. We are reaching out to legislators much more than we used to. We have a strong relationship with the Wisconsin Counties Association, a group that has good rapport with state legislators. We are working to build program support in our home counties by engaging County Board Supervisors in WI Land+Water. The WI Land+Water Outreach Committee is laying the ground work for effectively using social media to tell our story and increase conservation support. WI Land+Water is working with other conservation groups to craft a common message and share resources. We are also starting to work on ideas for long term, stable conservation funding.
There are many threats to our land and water resources right now. But with these threats comes raised awareness amongst our citizens. We are already starting to see this at the local level across Wisconsin. It will likely be aroused citizens who finally force our politicians to make sound stewardship decisions on behalf of the many instead of the few.