Conservation Minnesota

Local Conservation Champions: Hastings Environmental Protectors

During this year's Birding Festival, Hastings became Minnesota's first official Bird City.

During this year’s Birding Festival, Hastings became Minnesota’s first official Bird City.

Through my travels in the southeast metro I’ve been lucky enough to work with great local organizations that are dedicated to conservation and environmental issues in their communities. The Hastings Environmental Protectors (HEP) are a wonderful example of what a few concerned and passionate individuals can do when they work together for the benefit of natural resources and the health of our families and neighbors. This year alone they’ve made an impressive impact in the Hastings area. They’ve done everything from surveying for golden eagles throughout the Mississippi River Valley to partnering with the Friends of the Mississippi River to share the State of the River Report at Share’s Bluff.

HEP started out in 2003 as ITASKA but changed their name in 2005 and became the organization we know today. Some of their biggest accomplishments since their founding include annual clean-ups where they coordinate with other organizations to pick up litter and garbage around the Hastings area. It’s always sobering how much trash one can find strewn along our rivers and parks. In addition, over the last four years, HEP has worked in partnership with the Carpenter Nature Center and Hastings Parks Department to organize the Annual Hastings Birding Festival that occurs every Earth Day. This year’s Birding Festival included the official designation of Hastings becoming Minnesota’s first ever Bird City. Audubon Minnesota’s Bird-friendly Communities Manager presented the City of Hastings and HEP President Kevin Smith the official plaque, Bird City flag, and Bird City road signs for the main entrances to the City of Hastings.

These actions are only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The group coordinates Buckthorn Bonfire Socials where folks can help get rid of this pesky invasive species; field trips to ecologically important areas in the state, such as the Sax-Zim Bog in St. Louis County; ongoing water quality sampling of Lake Rebecca for the City of Hastings and the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services; touring the City of Hastings de-nitrification plant that was built as a result of unsafe levels of nitrate found in Hastings drinking water; and planting pollinator gardens throughout the city. As we can see, HEP is doing a valuable service for their community in providing a healthy environment and opportunities to be educated about natural resources, and they are offering ways to get more involved in local conservation efforts.

Don’t just take it from me, here is what the HEP President had to say about the work of their organization.

“Acting locally, HEP makes a big difference. It takes partnerships to keep our environment in better shape. As a small organization, we have to work with larger entities to make the impact. This is evident in the work we continue to do.”

This is the same way we feel at Conservation Minnesota. Partnerships are what move our work forward and connect us to your communities. Partnerships are what move conservation efforts toward success. Unfortunately, there isn’t a HEP in every community, but from what I’ve seen in Hastings, there should be. If you are interested in starting a local conservation group that can engage your community on natural resources and conservation, please do send me an email at and let’s chat about your community!

About Avery Hildebrand

Avery Hildebrand
Born in Minnesota, Hildebrand earned his degree in Environmental Science and Management from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. He has an extensive background in canvassing and organizing. An avid fisherman, who once worked as an aquatic invasive species watercraft inspector, his perfect day in Minnesota includes good friends and fishing, which pairs nicely with his favorite place in the state, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
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