Water: 5 Star Wetland Restoration & Grants
Five-Star Restoration Program Descriptions EPA Region 2
Erie County, NY's Innovative Partnership to Teach Environmental Stewardship Through the JTPA Summer Youth Employment Program
EPA Region 2
To restore natural areas along urban rivers, it is essential to have people living nearby feel a sense of ownership over public spaces and treat them as their backyard. The Erie County Department of Environment and Planning (ECDEP) recognized the need to foster a bridge to these communities, especially young people, to protect three county 'pocket' parks along the Buffalo River and Cazenovia Creek. At these sites, the county had made a significant investment in restoring degraded fish and wildlife habitat.
The ECDEP launched the Buffalo River Wetlands and Watershed Stewardship Program to encourage environmental stewardship while providing a rich educational experience. With the support of the National Association of Counties, ECDEP brought together the Buffalo and Erie County Private Industry Council and the Town of West Seneca Youth Bureau and AmeriCorps and linked the agencies' separate and distinct missions into a unified partnership having common goals for:
- environmental protection and enhancement;
- youth employment, job training and education;
- individual qualities and leadership development; and,
- community outreach.
The Erie County Stewardship Program demonstrated how effective partnerships help achieve local sustainable community initiatives.
During the summer of 1997, nine youths from the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) Summer Youth Employment and Training Program participated in the Erie County Stewardship Program. The youths were supervised by ECDEP staff and Americorps members. The Buffalo River and Cazenovia Creek watershed was both their classroom and their subject during their employment. By summer's end, the youths knew the watershed and its habitats with an intimacy they may never have expected. They now have a better awareness of the remarkable diversity of life in the environments they encounter and of the adaptations and interdependence of the creatures, plants, and geological features within those environments. The young people reported that they carried away with them a strong sense of their responsibility for the stewardship of the land.
The success of the Erie County Stewardship Program resulted from a strong partnership of four entities. These entities and their objectives are described below:
Erie County Department of Environment and Planning (ECDEP)
The ECDEP provides direct technical services and staff assistance to county government, local governments, residents and businesses for planning and implementation of infrastructure, and community and economic development. One of the department's objectives is to restore and enhance fish and wildlife habitat at select sites on the Buffalo River, while providing public access to these areas.
The ECDEP developed the Erie County Stewardship Program to accomplish several objectives:
- engage youths in planning and construction of three fish and wildlife habitat restoration projects;
- develop and implement a community-based environmental watch-program for the wetlands and habitat sites under construction;
- initiate citizen participation in water quality monitoring throughout the watershed; and
- build effective interagency partnerships with local agencies and organizations having diverse, yet complimentary, goals and objectives.
The BEC-PIC is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to job training and employment for residents in need of skills for successful employment. It is in part funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Labor through the JTPA. Among the JTPA programs the BEC-PIC administers is the Summer Youth Employment and Training Program (SYETP). The SYETP provides paid employment and education to low-income or at-risk youth during the summer. It incorporates basic employment skills, integrated learning experiences, and work maturity skills to provide a strong connection between summer learning and school year progress.
Town of West Senaca Youth Bureau (WSYB) and Americorps
The Town of West Senaca Youth Bureau is dedicated to the promotion of service by and for the youth of West Senaca. One of the WSYB programs, the West Senaca Service Action Corps, is an AmeriCorps program. Objectives of the WSYB include: providing leadership opportunities for young adults who are participants in AmeriCorps; sponsoring a "youth corps;" and protecting and maintaining the environment.
The National Association of Counties (NACo)
Two NACo service programs provided funding for the Erie County Stewardship Program. NACo's Employment and Training Program, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, and NACo's Wetlands Protection and Coastal Watershed Management Projects, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, provided Erie County with support for transportation and report writing costs.
The Stewardship Program successfully demonstrated an innovative and cost-effective approach toward community job training, environmental awareness, and site maintenance. By working together toward common ends, the partners were able to bridge barriers and accomplish more than any one agency working alone would have done. Whether urban metropolis or rural county, this approach can easily be adapted to suit the particular needs of a community. All that is needed are people who are receptive, motivated, and committed to taking part.
Among the youths' accomplishments were the:
- successful maintenance and protection of restored fish and wildlife habitats at three public parks along the Buffalo River;
- promotion of the newly restored park areas through letters written to local elected officials and presentations to children at community centers;
- development and implementation of a "Community Affirmation Celebration" to encourage residents to help maintain and protect the parks from vandalism completion of a wetlands vegetation survey;
- continuance of a water quality survey at previously identified water monitoring stations;
- successful preservation and enhancement of riparian vegetation through shoreline and streambank planting to trap sediment and reduce erosion within the Buffalo River watershed; and,
- attainment of employability skills (including decision-making, problem solving, punctuality, ability to express themselves verbally and in writing, responsibility, trust and patience), as well as the realization of their abilities, and the improved self-confidence to apply those abilities when needed.
The success of the program has inspired the ECDEP to aim for new opportunities to expand the program. Some of the many ideas currently being considered by the ECDEP are:
- extending ongoing water quality monitoring to include school children and neighborhood groups,
- capitalizing on the voluntary participation of local environmental consulting firms and landscaping businesses in wetlands restoration and encouraging broader support and participation by the private sector, and
- working with the Erie County Welfare-to-Work program to continue water quality monitoring and site maintenance during the school year and broaden community participation.
Erie County's Stewardship Program strengthened the working relationship among the partners involved and inspired others to want to join in and help. This widespread support for collaborative efforts will ensure that a strong stewardship initiative for the protection and restoration of the Buffalo River and Cazenovia Creek watershed will continue in the future.
Erie County Department of Environment and Planning
95 Franklin Street, Room 1077
Buffalo, NY 14202
Phone: (716) 858-6430
Fax: (716) 858-7713