Thursday, December 30, 2010

Training: Are we there yet?

I began this year musing whether there should be legislative changes to the training requirements for wetlands agency member -- and concluding there should be. 2010 brought no legislative or policy changes regarding training. But what about the raw numbers of wetlands agency members trained? How did 2010 fare in comparison to the numbers earlier in the decade?

Darcy Winther of the DEP wetlands training program kindly provided me with a graph mapping out the numbers of participants at the 3 different training sessions from 2000 - 2009. She supplied preliminary and approximate numbers for 2010: Segment I - 100; Segment II - 160; Segment III - 130, for an approximate total of 390 participants. (Note: the number of attendees to Segment III is not yet reflected on the graph.) When this year's numbers are finalized, the 11-year graph will be completed and posted them on the DEP wetlands homepage.

Bad news, folks. In 2010 there were fewer attendees at Segments I, II and III than in any other year in the 2000s. Let's recap: Segment I is the beginning curriculum which introduces new staff members and agency members to the legal, administrative and entry natural resource matters; Segment II is the "continuing education" component with annual updates based on legislative changes, court decisions and developing natural resource techniques; Segment III explores one or more areas in depth. Segment I and II are the "workhorse" units that, in my opinion, should be the focus of attention.

(Alas, I have tried unsuccessfully to import the DEP graph. We will have to await DEP's posting it on the DEP wetlands homepage.)

There are reports for two years (2005, 2006) on the DEP website. Those reports present different numbers of attendees than the graph reflects. On the graph, it appears that there were more attendees to Segment I and II in 2010 than in 2005. Yet, the 2005 report indicates that a total of 279 attended training, broken down into Segment I (110) and Segment II (169), while in 2010 the equivalent numbers are 260 (Segment I: 100 and Segment II: 160). In the text of the 2006 report the total number of attendees is listed as 452 for the year, but the graph indicates over 500.

What conclusions can we draw from these data? Are agencies keeping themselves trained on the changes in the law and resource management?

Not if the graph is any indication. With 170 municipal agencies (the town and the borough of Groton, I believe, are responsible for the number being one greater than the number of towns in the state), over the 11-year period, Segment II numbers show less than 1 person/municipality, on average, is receiving the annual updates. Even the statistics for 2004, the highest in the decade, average less than 1.5 persons/municipality for Segment II. That was a critical year, as the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in October 2003 that wildlife was not within the jurisdiction of the wetlands act and the legislature swiftly enacted a compromise, reversing in part and affirming in part, the court decision, with an effective date of June 2004.

As for those new to the wetlands act, it is hard to draw a conclusion. The majority of members are likely to remain on an agency from year to year. With the exception of 2004, less than one person/municipality received Segment I training. Again, the highest turnout still did not exceed 1.5 persons/municipality. Without knowing the turnover on all wetlands agencies and whether the "new" members had ever served before in the same or another town, it can't be estimated what percentage of new members who should be getting training were, in fact, trained.

What can be ascertained is this: the overwhelming majority of current wetlands agency members are not participating in Segment II training, and thus are not being trained on the changes in the statute and the case law. I must say that this voluntary system of training falls short of guaranteeing that these "indispensable and irreplaceable but fragile natural resource(s)" are being protected by wetlands agency members in the manner set forth by the wetlands act.

So, to answer the question: Are we there yet?

Not by a long shot.

No comments: