Ottinger named district conservationist

Special to the Mountaineer
By Gail Heathman | Dec 20, 2012
John Ottinger

John Ottinger was named District Conservationist (DC) for the Haywood and Madison Soil and Water Conservation Districts, taking over the post held by Kara Cassels for the past seven years. Cassels, a Buncombe native, moved to Buncombe SWCD in October.

Soil and water conservation districts offer programs such as NC Ag Cost Share that help local landowners in agriculture conserve soil and avoid polluting our water. The federal agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA), also has programs that provide technical and financial help, and the person administering those programs is the District Conservationist.

For Ottinger, the job is one he has, in a sense, been preparing for most of his life starting with growing up on a small farm in Waynesville. As with many professionals in the natural resource field, long before earning his degree in Natural Resources Management from WCU and spending years gaining experience on the job, caring about the future of agriculture was an intrinsic part of  Ottinger. It stems from the conviction deep inside that, “Only a handful of our population — 2 percent — feeds the rest of us — 98 percent.  It’s important to do whatever we can to help farmers while protecting the environment.”

Ottinger, a 1989 Tuscola High School graduate, started as a N.C. Ag Cost Share technician with the Jackson SWCD, then went to work with NRCS a year later. The next 11 years found him working with the Swain, Jackson and Macon SWCDs as well as the Cherokee Indian Reservation. In the midst of that work, the floods resulting from Hurricanes Frances and Ivan meant going to other areas in the state with the federal Emergency Watershed Protection program.

Life is busy for Ottinger, a married father of three whose family is a top priority. But he never forgets the importance of his work when too many Americans take agriculture for granted. One of his favorite quotes by Franklin D. Roosevelt sums up his feelings: “Men and nature must work hand in hand; the throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.”