“When you hand good people possibility, they do great things.” – Biz Stone

To create possibilities for the conservation and resiliency of New York State land and waters and citizens, one must invest in training the people to help the cause in “providing today and protecting tomorrow.” Just as a tree, plant or family establishes roots in our local communities, “local Soil and Water Conservation District staff provide the ‘roots of conservation,” said New York State Ag & Markets Commissioner Richard Ball.

Expectations are high for implementation, as the $4.2 billion NYS Environmental Bond Act, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act), regenerative farming initiatives, local foodsheds and recreating New Yorkers look for progress as investment in conservation and green jobs grow.

A lot of this work has been steered to the locals of conservation. To meet the expectations on the ground, the New York State Conservation District Employees’ Association (NYS CDEA) and their 58 respective districts from every county and borough in NYS hold an intense four-day Water Quality Symposium (WQS) for district employees, USDA-NRCS employees, water quality coordinating committee representatives and all conservation partners who seek effective professional development experiences and training in helping customers.

The 2024 WQS, coordinated by Oneida County SWCD District Manager Jessica Armstrong, was attended by a record number of over 300 professionals and featured 30 training sessions from small farm planning, stormwater management practices and grazing paddock designs to accounting procedures. Managing fallow land, learning about tree diseases, vegetable production and hands-on soil health practices and HydroCAD design were taught by seasoned mentors and accredited engineers. The symposium also focused on personal development and communication skills in managing diverse projects and people.

New York Conservation District employees train for the future

NYS CDEA winners from across the state. Submitted photo

In addition, a resource fair featuring producers, partner vendors and businesses provided a networking forum to learn about different strategies, equipment and products that help staff provide affordable, quality conservation practices.

The NYS CDEA also takes the time to honor employees, conservation partners and special projects with an awards banquet. This year’s event, led by Hamilton County SWCD Manager and NYS CDEA President Caitlin Stewart, bestowed the prestigious Willard F. Croney Distinguished Service Award for an outstanding conservation district employee to Shino Tanikawa, executive director of the NYC SWCD.

“Thank you for giving me the most honorable recognition. I am deeply touched and humbled. It is gratifying to have the work of an urban conservation district (in the most urbanized of cities in the nation) recognized as important and meaningful,” said Tanikawa. “Although I am the recipient of the award, I consider it an award to my district and all the people who have ever worked with the district staff, board and partners.”

This year’s awards banquet also honored other deserving land stewards. The President’s Award was presented to Cortland County SWCD’s Natural Resource Conservationist Shawn Murphy. The Partnership Appreciation Award was bestowed on Matt Swayze, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Forester. The District Director Award honored Larry Lewis, farmer and district board chair of the Yates County SWCD for his years of dedicated service. The Special Project Award went to Chautauqua County SWCD.

The Community Service Award was given to Brianna Rosamilla from Rockland County SWCD. Division Merit Awards were awarded to Scott Collins of Niagara SWCD, Jason Cuddeback of Cayuga SWCD, Erica Scheiner from Oswego SWCD, Brian Danforth from Delaware SWCD, Jillian Zajac of Clinton SWCD, Lori Sheehan from Washington SWCD, Lauren Drum from Dutchess SWCD and Derek Betts of Nassau SWCD.

“This year’s Water Quality Symposium was one for the history books,” said Stewart. “We maxed out classroom space and hotel rooms … with record numbers of new employees learning to put conservation into action on the land and around water resources. The expert instructors and seasoned mentors cultivated professional development on all levels of experience. The networking opportunities allow staff the space to solve problems, build relationships across the state and work together to help agriculture, rural, suburban and urban customers.”

To learn more and get connected with your local conservation district or NYS CDEA staff personnel, visit nyscdea.com.

by Troy Bishopp