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By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — After 42 years of service to Dunn County, Dan Prestebak, county conservationist, has retired.
The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee held a farewell for Prestebak as part of the December 22 meeting.
The farewell included a slide presentation of photographs and comments from people with whom Prestebak had worked over the years.
John Sipple of the Dunn County Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) said he had talked with many past and present land and water conservation division employees “and all have said nothing but good” about Prestebak.
“His heart is in the right place (concerning) soil and water quality,” he said.
One of Prestebak’s many accomplishments as county conservationist was to find funds to purchase a no-till seed drill that has now planted thousands of acres in Dunn County, Sipple said.
“It is a tool that will (continue) to be a great asset to the county and the taxpayers,” he said.
Prestebak also was integral in developing the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm, which has been in operation for six years. The no-till seed drill is improving soil health at the demonstration farm and is proving that no-till is more profitable than conventional tilling, Sipple said.
Prestebak also has been good at building partnerships, and the acquisition of Dobbs Landing is one example of Prestebak working with private groups to acquire a property that is a significant environmental site and wildlife habitat, he said.
In addition to emphasizing education at the demonstration farm, Prestebak has partnered with UW-Stout to bring students out to Prestebak’s farm, Sipple said.
Prestebak’s ability to communicate “will be greatly missed,” from an NRCS standpoint, he said.
Prestebak noted that in one instance when UW LAKES students — part of the LAKES Research for Undergraduates program — visited his farm, a young lady from California was just getting out of the car when one of his cows mooed, and she was surprised to learn that’s what a cow sounds like.
For many of the university students, it is the first time for them to be in close proximity to a cow or to have the opportunity to drive a tractor, Prestebak said.
The students come to the farm to learn and to share and to have a cookout, he noted.
In addition to his expertise with soil and water conservation, Prestebak also has a vast knowledge and understanding of state statutes, said Bob Kaner, Dunn County conservation engineering technician.
“I am going to miss Dan’s knowledge and experience and his understanding of state statutes,” he said, adding that Prestebak could have been an attorney but that he chose to work close to nature.
Another of Prestebak’s accomplishments was to conduct a river survey to do an “eroding banks” inventory. The river survey started in northern Dunn County and covered the length of the county, Kaner said.
Prestebak started working for Dunn County in 1978. The land and water conservation department was formed in 1974, and Prestebak was hired by Dunn County’s first conservationist, Jim Forster, Kaner said, adding that he had started working for Dunn County in 1985.
Prestebak started out in land and water conservation doing farm planning, writing animal waste management plans and erosion control plans. Dunn County’s diverse program also included flood control structures and dams in the county, Kaner said.
Another of Prestebak’s accomplishments was to be instrumental in starting the county’s tree planting program, which evolved into purchasing a sidehill tree planter, he said.
Prestebak obtained a grant from the Ruffed Grouse Society, and it was the first time the society had invested in establishing ruffed grouse habitat rather than only restoring or maintaining habitat, Kaner said.
Dunn County island
The Dunn County “island” in the southern part of the county in the Meridean area on the Chippewa River is “Dan’s playground,” Kaner said.
Prestebak grew up on a farm in that area, and when Prestebak was first hired by the county, the county purchased the “island” and moved the farms that were there, he said.
Prestebak then worked to reforest the cropland on the island, noting some of the pictures in the farewell presentation for Prestebak came from a book about Happy Island.
The book, written by Jeanne Anderson and published in 2020, is titled “Where the Lilacs Grow: The Story of Happy Island and Old Meridean.”
Kaner noted that he and other land and water conservation employees had relied on Prestebak’s experience in navigating rivers in boats and canoes to “keep them alive.”
Kaner also mentioned the acquisition of Dobbs Landing and how important it is to have public lands for access by the public. He also noted Prestebak had received an award in 2014 for helping to coordinate the acquisition of Dobbs Landing.
The Red Cedar Cut-off Nature Preserve is another accomplishment. The preserve was started by Jim Forster and Prestebak, and then Prestebak finished the project after Forster retired and had passed away, Kaner said.
Forster retired as county conservationist after 34 years of service in 2008. He died in 2009 at the age of 58.
Prestebak also contributed to 30 years of habitat development for Red Cedar Pheasants Forever, received an achievement award from the organization, and in 2007, received a statewide Conservationist of the Year award, Kaner said.
“Dan has the ability to work with everybody,” he said.
Pheasants Forever completed a land purchase in the Town of Red Cedar, and it was the first project in the nation purchased in conjunction with the National Wide Turkey Federation, he noted.
Kaner also pointed out it was appropriate Prestebak included a quote on all of his outgoing e-mail messages: “The landscape of any farm is the owner’s portrait of himself.” — Aldo Leopold
“It’s time to take one last look back, snug down your cap and push off for a new adventure in this ‘life well spent,’” Kaner said.
Bob Colson, Dunn County zoning administrator, said he had known Jim Forster and that he knew Forster had hand picked Prestebak to be his successor.
The presentation at the PR&D meeting was only a small sampling of what has been accomplished under Dan Prestebak’s leadership, he said.
Prestebak, like Forster, “will leave some big shoes to fill,” Colson said.
Janell Newcomb, support specialist for the Dunn County Land and Water Conservation, has worked with Prestebak for 33 years.
Prestebak is the only boss she has had in addition to Jim Forster, Newcomb said.
“Dan has taken pride in conserving the land and waters of our state and of our county to conserve for future generations,” Newcomb said.
The Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association sent a letter of appreciation for Prestebak’s service.
“Dan was a strong and reliable partner for (TMLIA),” and Dunn County had one of the first farmer led water councils in the state, the letter noted.
Tom Quinn, county board supervisor from Downing and chair of the PR&D committee, said he had always appreciated Prestebak’s work on the committee concerning ordinances as well as his work out on the landscape.
Prestebak usually had some insight on how other ordinances under consideration by the PR&D committee related to land conservation, he said.
“Dan brings enormous integrity to this job … we will miss you a lot,” Quinn said.
Dave Bartlett, county board supervisor from Boyceville and chair of the Dunn County Board, also spoke about Prestebak’s integrity and the trust and respect he had cultivated with the county board.
“You have always been there for me … to answer my dumb questions and to educate me … I will miss you greatly as the whole county board will miss you,” Bartlett said.
It is time
Prestebak said he appreciated all of the county staff he had worked with over the years and that he had especially appreciated working with Forster.
Forster, instead of telling farmers what they had to do to conserve the land and water, would explain why something should be done, and Prestebak said he had followed Forster’s lead of providing education.
Prestebak also encouraged Dunn County to have a land conservation committee in addition to the PR&D committee.
Twelve years ago, when Prestebak had completed an interview with Gene Smith, county manager, about the county conservationist position, Brett Favre was retiring and Aaron Rodgers was taking over, and now Aaron Rodgers is planning to retire, Prestebak said.
Just as it is time for the Green Bay Packers to have a new quarterback, it is time for Dunn County to have a new conservationist, Prestebak said.
After the farewell presentation for Prestebak, the PR&D committee met in closed session to review candidates for the conservationist position.
When the PR&D committee convened into open session again, Quinn announced that the committee had made a recommendation to the county administration for a new county conservationist.