Radon, a byproduct of radioactive decay, is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. And Minnesota is ranked fourth-highest in the nation with highly dangerous levels in many homes. Thanks to the work of Extension housing technology specialists, Minnesota's homes are much safer from this threat. Extension experts teach builders and other housing-related professionals how to prevent and fix radon problems. Their goal is to improve the long-term quality, efficiency, environmental health and durability of residential and other buildings in Minnesota and other cold-climate regions. Due in part to Extension's teamwork, Minnesota was first to establish a statewide building code to reduce radon in new homes.
Minnesotans tend to know a lot about birds and plants. But they may not know as much about water quality, geology or land issues. In 2005, Extension and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources created the Master Naturalist program to teach people about their environment and build a corps of dedicated, enthusiastic volunteers. Master Naturalists learn the natural history of one of Minnesota's three biomes: Big Woods, Big Rivers; Prairies and Potholes; or North Woods, Great Lakes. Then they perform nature-related service, like gathering prairie seed and helping educate others. So far, Master Naturalists have contributed $191,000 in services, improved more than 57,000 acres of land and helped educate 47,000 people.
Farmers need good soil drainage to grow productive crops, but it's a challenge to achieve this while protecting the environment. With help from Extension, producers are learning how to install new systems to drain runoff from fields. One system, for example, features wood chips that remove nitrogen from water before it empties into nearby lakes or streams.
In 2008, Extension also began teaching landowners and others involved in agricultural drainage water management about a "conservation drainage"? approach that uses controlled drainage systems to keep water where it will do the most good.
"Don't bag it,"? the catchphrase for leaving grass clippings on your lawn, was coined in the 1980s by Extension horticulturists. Since then, Extension educators have taught thousands of Minnesotans to "green up"? their lawns with fewer pesticides, less water and less work. Decades of turfgrass research by University agronomists backs up Extension's information. Lawn-service businesses and the government benefit, as well. An added bonus is research-based information about composting. Thanks to Extension, Minnesotans are making more informed choices and protecting other natural resources such as lakes and streams by caring responsibly for their lawns and green spaces.
Young people are the future users and stewards of Minnesota's lakes and streams. Extension's Water Resources Center involves boys and girls early through programs they can enjoy. Through fishing, learning how to restore water resources and volunteering as water monitors, kids gain skills and knowledge they can use throughout their lives. In the Twin Cities area, Extension obtained grants from the Metropolitan Council and the McKnight Foundation for the Volunteer Stream Monitoring Partnership (VSMP). This shoreland education program teaches high school students to use bioengineering techniques to stabilize stream banks and keep them from eroding.
Extension has always worked to manage invasive species in agriculture. But in the late 1980s, Extension also led the way in addressing threats to Minnesota's water recreation and economy from aquatic invasive species. Educators moved fast to get information out to the public about zebra mussels, which can clog pipes and cost millions of dollars for clean-up. Educators also helped Minnesotans curtail other major threats--purple loosestrife, Eurasian water milfoil, curly leaf pondweed--saving the state from untold numbers of dollars in clean-up and landowners from heavy loss to property values. Today, Extension educates about the benefits of prevention, containment and minimizing impacts to keep new species from spreading.
In Anoka County in 1965, Extension organized a new program that took elementary school teachers and their students outdoors to learn about Minnesota's natural resources. Extension faculty taught 2,000 kids at natural camp settings. The workshops, outdoor lab sessions and field trips all offered a new kind of experience that laid the foundation for today's environmental science field days. Now, Extension offers innovative classes across the state for nature center educators, teachers and youth environmental educators (like those who work with 4-H and Scouts groups). Today, Extension environmental science education programs offer curriculum tips, research-based best practices and ready-to-teach content.