How do I start a POW program at my chapter?
Do you have a wetland on your chapter property that needs some restoration work? Is there a wetland in your community that you would like to help protect against encroaching development? Would you like to mobilize more people to join your chapter and volunteer for local community conservation events? A Protect Our Wetlands Program at your chapter may be exactly what you need to provide fellow chapter members and citizens an opportunity to get involved in wetlands protection and restoration activities.
1. Get members and others involved.
Before you start organizing a Protect Our Wetlands program, hold a brainstorming session with other interested chapter members, and come up with a few wetland issues that you’d all like to work together on. Working with a team from the very beginning will help make your POW program more successful in the long run. Make sure you invite other interested members of the community to join your brainstorming session as well. Conservation groups, civic and garden clubs, Scout groups, Future Farmers of America chapters, and many other organizations will all be more than willing to pitch in and help you get the ball rolling. You may find that this is also a very effective way to build up your chapter’s membership.
2. Nominate a POW Chairperson.
It is important to have someone in charge of coordinating your POW team’s efforts. This person can oversee your wetlands conservation efforts, act as a liaison with the staff at the IWLA National Office, and help make sure your activities are publicized in your chapter newsletter, as well as elsewhere in the community. A chairperson is not necessarily someone who does all the work, but rather someone with both the time and the ability to get other people motivated to work. Generally, the chairperson should find the appropriate people to fulfill each task, and then be able to follow through in a supportive way to see that their work gets done.
3. Get the publicity rolling.
It’s never too early to get the word out about the wetland protection and restoration efforts your chapter is involved in. Even before you start your first project, call the editors and broadcasters in your area and make appointments to meet them. Take the time to tell them what you are planning, and ask them for their support. Newspapers, radio and television stations all like “good news.” Wetlands conservation is a positive program that benefits the whole community, so don’t hesitate to explain it to your local media. But remember that your story is competing for space in the paper or on the air along with other major stories of the day. So make sure to thank them for what they are able to do for you – it will pay off in additional stories in the future!
4. Plan a baseline project.
Your first POW project should have two goals. First, it should be relatively simple to organize and implement. Second, it should be geared toward getting your POW team more familiar with a local wetland area so that they may better identify priorities for action. A relatively simple and fun way to get more people involved in wetland conservation is to organize a “wetland walk.” An excursion to a nearby marsh, bog or estuary will allow community members to get acquainted with the wonders of wetlands, and motivate their interest in conserving them. At the same time, you should compile a list of all the things that are “right” and “wrong” with your wetland. As you create this wetland inventory, you should also draw a simple map that will allow you to better understand your wetland. On the map, you can mark where pollution might be present, natural wildlife habitat possibilities, structures that might affect water quality, potential for outdoor recreational or classroom sites, or anything else that might affect your wetland. For a project like this, it would also be beneficial to find someone well versed in plant and animal identification skills to come along. If there aren’t any naturalists on your team, try contacting a local Audubon chapter to see if they would like to work with you. Remember, it is important to get permission before you plan an excursion on, or through, any privately owned land. The best way to gain the support of landowners is to try to involve them in your efforts from the very beginning. And remember to share any new findings with your community by letting the media know about what you have found.
Another effective kick-off event is a wetland clean-up campaign. This project can be done at the same time as the “wetland walk,” and gives your group a chance to attract publicity, as well as more motivated volunteers. Clean-up campaigns show incredibly positive results in a relatively short time. In just one day, a group of 10 to 20 volunteers can improve the appearance of your wetland, the quality of fish and wildlife habitat in your watershed, and also the spirits of everyone involved. Again, if the wetland you’d like to restore is not on your or your chapter’s property, make sure that you obtain permission from the landowner or the appropriate agency before you start planning your clean-up event.
5. Set up goals and priorities.
Now that you’ve gathered some important data and have a lot of people involved, call a POW meeting to define specific problems and identify those issues that your POW team would like to work on solving. Make a tree diagram with your overall mission on top, some specific goals to further your mission, and then some action-oriented project ideas that can meet each goal.
Improving wetland health is a good overarching mission, but this general objective should be further broken down into more specific goals. Maybe the threat of invasive species is a major factor compromising the health of your wetland, or the constant dumping of trash and litter. You might want to work on several of these goals at once, but make sure to keep it simple. Don’t try to solve everything at one time, or you may find yourself and your team running out of steam very quickly.
Now that you have a couple of goals established, identify which issue your group would like to work on first and come up with a project that your group would like to work on to meet this goal. If enough people are involved, you may even choose to tackle several projects at once. But remember, don’t take on any more than you can have fun with! POW is a citizen action program that should be fully integrated with everything else that makes a community strong and healthy.
6. Appoint committees.
Once your priorities are established, the next step is to appoint a committee for each individual project that needs to get done. Depending on your needs and the amount of people involved, you may also wish to appoint support committees, such as finance, resources, equipment, etc. A publicity committee should also be appointed to make sure that your story gets told. It then becomes the responsibility of the POW chairperson to work with each of the committees and see that their efforts are coordinated.
The key to success here is to make sure to let people choose the committees on which they would like to work. It is important to explore every opportunity to get people involved, and take advantage of the diverse areas of expertise already existing in your team. Once the committees have been set up, give everyone a task and make sure that POW newcomers are immediately integrated into an existing committee. Finally, it is important to recognize all committee and individual effort both within your chapter, and in any media outreach.
7. Integrate the community and forge partnerships.
There may be untapped sources of talent in your community that could really help you boost the success of your project. For instance, many retired persons have excellent backgrounds in the local history and the surrounding ecology of your community, or legal and technical advice that they would be more than willing to share. In addition, your local libraries, schools, colleges and universities, and government agencies are all excellent places to find knowledgeable people and valuable resources that can enhance your project. Also, these places may also provide excellent partnership opportunities as you look to expand the scope of your projects in the future.
8. Catalog resources.
As you compile research and gather information, make sure to keep track of these valuable resources in a master list. This list will be an invaluable tool to help keep your project going and to teach people in your community more about wetland conservation. Izaak Walton League’s national office has a comprehensive list of resources that can help you get started, which you can access here. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state resource agencies, and other conservation organizations are also good places to gather information about wetlands in your area. Ask to be put on their mailing lists for information that might be helpful to you.
9. Take action!
If you have followed the preceding guidelines, you now have an active, on-going POW program in your chapter that can motivate people in the community to get involved in, and excited about, wetland conservation. Once you’ve got a project or two going, keep the momentum going with exciting events, community celebrations, constructive partnerships, and media outreach. The Protect Our Wetlands program is rooted in community support and citizen action, which are key factors in promoting healthy and functioning wetland ecosystems throughout the nation. With your chapter as a part of this grassroots effort, you are not only ensuring that your local wetlands are protected and restored, you are helping to build an environmental ethic in your community that will thrive for many generations to come.