CELEBRATE CONSERVATION: Teaching students in nature?s classroom

Maybe the only thing more laudable than living in harmony with the earth is to convince others to do the same.

Max Terman, a professor of biology and earth sciences at Tabor College for the past three decades, has spent his professional career passing on his love for nature to his students and neighbors.

This year he is being recognized for his efforts by receiving the Conservation Education ?Teacher of the Year? Award from the Marion County Conservation District.

?It?s always good to be recognized for trying to be a good steward,? Terman says. ?So many times people who try to save the environment sort of do so in anonymity. When someone recognizes your efforts, it makes you feel a little better about doing it.?

Terman says he inherited his love of nature from his family while growing up in Ohio. He eventually earned a doctorate in ecology and environmental sciences before accepting his first and only teaching job?at Tabor.

?We thought we?d stay maybe two years and then leave,? he says. ?But it?s just a nice place to teach.?

Terman has been involved in numerous environmental projects during the intervening years. Several were singled out by the MCCD,

During the past two-plus years, Terman has headed a project to monitor the water quality of the streams that feed Marion Reservoir, a source of drinking water for more than half the county.

?There was a concern about runoff after heavy rains going into streams,? Terman says. ?They needed someone to monitor that, and I thought this would make a good project for myself and students.?

He feels the project has been good for the county and for his students.

?I think it motivates students because they see they?re actually doing some valuable work rather than just doing a project that nobody will read,? he says. ?They feel they?re being part of the solution to a problem.?

He said the streams will be monitored for at least another year or two.

?The goal is to develop a strategy so water running into streams isn?t as loaded with nitrates and phosphates and bacteria and chloride,? he says. ?In order to do that, we need to have bumper strips and native vegetation long the streams, and then soil conservation practices on the land.?

Terman also was cited for the book he wrote on the earth-sheltered home he built south of Hillsboro in 1980. The book, published in 1985, was well received during the energy-crisis years when people were interested in finding more efficient ways to live.

?But then gas and energy prices came down, all the interest seemed to wane,? he says.

Terman also has written a book based on his experiences with radiotelemetry and wildlife ecology called, Messages From an Owl.

In 1988 he was notified of a young owl found injured in a Hillsboro park. He and his students adopted the bird as a project. In the summer, Terman decided to attach a radio transmitter to the bird and monitor its habits.

He said he recorded two primary ?messages? from the project.

?I realized how owls would follow corridors from habitat to habitat, how important it was to have fence rows and prairies and little patches of habitat so these birds can find a place to nest up.?

This discovery fed his interest in incorporating habitat patches in such nontraditional places as golf courses.

The other message was how individualistic animals are.

?I raised two owls, actually, and they differed drastically,? he says. ?One was very intelligent, very adaptable. The other wasn?t and didn?t last long.?

Terman says he has seen the same individuality when it comes to area farmers responding to ecological opportunities through conservation practices.

?There are some that I think really take pride in having environmentally sound practices and are happy to have all the wildlife they can,? he says. ?Those individuals are really part of the solution.

?With the economic hard times (on the farm), others think this is a luxury and they have to plant fence-row to fence-row and get as much as they can,? he adds. ?That overriding ?just-trying-to-make-it? mentality rules out a lot of environmental things.

?The irony is that those who do practice soil conservation, in the long term, wind up being better off for it?both economically and stewardship-wise,? he says.

Terman chooses to be upbeat about the future of environmental awareness.

?By nature I?m an optimist,? he says. ?If you give up, you?re done already. You have to be encouraged by those who do take it seriously, and then you consider those who don?t as being a challenge.?

He sees his primary role as spreading the word.

?A lot of what I do comes out of a Christian ethic of caring for creation and earthkeeping,? he says, ?so it?s almost like when you spread the gospel. You say, ?Well, I?ll get the news out there, but it?s up to the Spirit and the person to accept it.??

Accepting the news has its rewards, Terman insists: ?The better we care for the earth, the better it will be; the less we care for it, the worse it will be.?

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