Friday, June 11, 2010

Wetlands training: self-reliance instead of training workshops?

Anytime I engage folks in the discussion of training the question is almost always posed: why aren't more of the training materials available online? DEP is building up a library of resources on the DEP wetlands webpage. The materials distributed at the 2010 Segment II training are available by scrolling down the DEP wetlands webpage, in the text, not the links to the topics in the left column.

I clicked on the "presentations and handouts" and was interested to find a "presentation on pesticides." While working at DEP, I handled a lot of pesticide enforcement matters, devoting years to some big cases. I wasn't aware of the DEP pesticide folks' involvement in wetlands training before. I highly respect the DEP pesticides program staff and I know that Brad Robinson knows his stuff.

This post is not about what Brad put into the materials, but what members might take away. So turn to page 30 of 40 in the "presentation on pesticides." On the page are 2 photos, both of phragmites. One caption states: "No permit needed -- phragmites on roadside". The other caption states: "Chemical control requires permit -- phragmites in water". The text on that page states: "Even though the roadside area may be a wetland as defined by soil, the permit requirement is for application to standing water." Those are all of the words on that page.

So, a wetlands agency member reads this at home. Does "no permit" mean no wetlands permit? This is wetlands training, after all. I am confident that had that question arisen during training, Brad would have jumped on it and made it clear he was referring to the state DEP permit process for regulating the application of pesticides to the waters of the state. Certainly that's what the front page of the materials states. Will members figure out the difference between the DEP aquatic permit and the wetlands permit? They would, if they attended training. Someone reading the materials, interrupted by talking, texting or TV, could easily take the text on page 30 out of context and conclude no municipal wetlands permit is needed for land applications. Again, this is not about the written materials, this is about the environment in which the materials are used.

My conclusion is not to restrict what materials are available online, but to provide better methods of interactional training. I'm a greater believer in live training workshops. Then again I was a music major in college (voice) and an active participant in musical theater. Life is a cabaret, my friend.

But when there are five locations for the DEP training, inevitably there are areas of the state where it feels too far to travel to be trained. Can technology help us out? The Environment Section of the Connecticut Bar Association held its first meeting (I believe) where one of the presenters was not among us. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, a professor from the Vermont Law School appeared to us "live" and was able to interact with the other presenters and the audience. What appears too high-falutin' and remote in 2010 may become state of the art training in 2012.

And another word about pesticide applications. The materials stress that adverse effects from pesticide applications in water are rare. DEP knows the statistics better than I do. But I must happen to live on one of those rare streets. In 2005 I saw that signs had gone up around the pond in our neighborhood, indicating the aquatic use of a pesticide. I called Brad Robinson and told him the pesticide. He explained that the pesticide used was common to control vegetation in ponds and that it works by treating 1/2 the pond at a time allowing the fish to swim into the untreated portion of the pond. Because the commercial applicator posted a sign, I didn't think to ask Brad whether the DEP had issued a permit for it. Two days later I was walking around the pond again and was alarmed to see what I estimated were 80-90 dead fish in the pond. I made a formal complaint to the DEP pesticides program. The DEP fisheries staff investigated along with the pesticides program and established over 500 dead fish. The commercial applicator had neither a DEP aquatic pesticide permit nor a municipal wetlands permit. The pesticide indicated on the sign was not the pesticide used and the applicator violated the label requirements regarding the application of pesticide that was used.

Permits are important. And agency members understanding what permits are required is basic.

More training materials with more opportunities for interactional training are needed. And still to come in future posts, my thoughts on higher standards for wetlands agencies.

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