Good Changes for the Environment in Our Hands

By Cathy Grubman

Paving land and cutting trees represent the biggest threats to clean water in our region. Audubon Naturalist Society Conservation Director Eliza Cava informed a group of citizen activists of this fact at the “Watershed Advocacy and Stewardship Training Workshop” at Woodend Sanctuary.

The workshop was hosted January 19, 2017 by ANS. It’s part of series to help ANS advance environmental conservation by creating the kind of community that allows people to take on issues in their neighborhoods.

We are Water Protectors

“The (workshop provides) a ‘101’ type overview of how ordinary ANS members and citizens can get involved in protecting clean water and healthy watersheds,” said Cava. “Some people want to raise their voices and become advocates and activists for public policy decisions. Others may want to know the principles of what they can do around their home, church, school, or neighborhood to improve water quality. And, most importantly, we emphasized that the same skills of analyzing, organizing, planning, and communicating apply no matter what type of issue you’re working on–from meeting with legislators about an environmental bill to setting up a neighborhood cleanup.”

The 20 attendees started with a basic lesson from Cava on our most precious and important resource: water. “There are opportunities on all levels to use our skills to protect water,” said Cava. “We are water protectors.” The biggest threats to clean water in our region? “Paving land and cutting trees!”

Diane Cameron, an environmental policy consultant and past ANS Director of Conservation and Bruce Gilmore, a stormwater consultant, also helped the lead the training.

What Homeowners Can Do

Cameron discussed how individual homeowners can protect streams. “High-level, expensive engineering solutions are not necessary—people can do it themselves,” she said. The best way is to “slow it down, spread it out, and soak it in.” Some techniques are to build rain gardens and green roofs, compost soil, and plant trees. Cameron also mentioned rebate programs such as Montgomery County’s RainScapes program.

Cameron noted that neighborhood compliance is an important tool in improving watersheds as well. “Involve your neighbors in your projects,” she said. “Make your yard a ‘seed’ yard to have other neighbors follow suit.”

Persistence Key to Governmental Advocacy

Gilmore tackled advocacy at the local, state and federal governmental level, pointing out how the advocates who succeed do it through persistence. “Never take no for an answer,” he said. “And have a consistent message.” He referenced Cameron’s and ANS’ efforts for the Ten Mile Creek campaign, which ran from 2012-14. She noted how her hard, unrelenting work resulted in saving development of the Ten Mile Creek watershed, which provides our area’s emergency drinking water supply.

Community Action Campaigns

The second half of the workshop involved skills trainings on how to plan and build a community action campaign. With fun role-playing scenarios on how to approach a decision-maker and facilitated breakout sessions to practice new skills, participants left the workshop feeling educated and empowered. “I work for a small but growing watershed group,” said Tina Rouse of the Friends of Cabin John Creek. “We just started to consider what kind of advocacy program to establish. This provided tools to help us.”

Master Naturalist Barbara Lewis is interested in what’s happening with Montgomery County’s watershed: “especially in my area, as I see the water changing. I want to find the right connection. This has stimulated me to do something,” she said.

Learn more about our workshops and conservation training programs at

This article was first published in the ANS Spring 2017 Naturalist Quarterly.

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