Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Sound Stewardship program

Sustainable Seattle is in the process of adopting a habitat restoration site on Seattle's Duwamish estuary. As we get to know the site, we're hoping to post photos and reports from there, but this first post will just be about the restoration program itself. It's a very successful way of mobilising volunteers for long-term commitments, so it's worth sharing.

People for Puget Sound is the organisation responsible. They have access to a large number of habitat restoration sites around Puget Sound, as part of the broader effort to restore the severely impaired marine ecosystem here. As is so often the case with restoration projects, the initial work is much better funded than maintenance, so they need a great deal of volunteer help to maintain the sites and ensure that the initial investment is not lost. Because these sites are mostly small pockets of shoreline in heavily disturbed environments, such as Seattle's industrial waterfront, they need at least 10 years of active maintenance and monitoring to become settled, and if they're ever completely abandoned they will become overrun by invasive plants.

People for Puget Sound's solution to this is the Sound Stewardship program. This invites people to get training in a range of topics including a history of the Duwamish River, introduction to ecology, native vs. invasive plant identification, weed control, and planting techniques. The training is free, but in exchange trainees must pledge to volunteer 40 hours over the coming year at one of the restoration sites. Most people keep their pledge, and most of them are able to keep coming back to the same site so they get to know it well and become deeply committed to taking care of it.

The really impressive part is what happens next: once people have had the training and the chance to become invested in a site's well-being, many of them stay on board for years. These people not only continue to volunteer at their sites, but become the strongest advocates for habitat restoration, and the best recruiters of future volunteers - an outcome any volunteer project must envy.

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