In celebration of Wisconsin Wetland Association’s 50th Anniversary we’re featuring reflections by leaders from throughout our five decades. Enjoy the story below of how one early leader, Marita Valencia, can trace her wetland career to her time as a volunteer with Wisconsin Wetlands Association (WWA).
In 1980, I was a stay-at-home mom looking to volunteer in my area of interest: water resources. I don’t remember how or when I first heard about WWA, but, after receiving the February 1980 newsletter I attended the first-ever Wetlands Week. There I met Rosie Meinholz, who said “I know you! You’re a friend of [a mutual acquaintance]”. In that moment, an enduring friendship and my wetlands career began.
For the next six years, I was actively involved with WWA. Rosie was elected chair of WWA in 1982, and I joined her as vice-chair. One of my roles for WWA was commenting on US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) public notices and creating a statewide network of people who could also comment. In 1984, I organized a WWA conference for the county coordinators attended by representatives of the Corps, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the Wisconsin Public Intervenor Office, and others.
In 1986, I moved to St. Paul, ending my time working directly with WWA, but beginning my wetland career in earnest. I knew two people in St. Paul; one was a Corps staffer who came to that conference.
My Corps friend told me that the Corps’ Regulatory Branch was hiring—the very agency that had created all those public notices I had been commenting on for WWA. With her help, I applied and, a few days later, was interviewed. The interviewer cautioned me that “in this job you will be approaching projects from a different point of view.” (Didn’t I know that!) But when the offer came, I took it, beginning my 26-year career with the Corps.
I soon discovered that the Regulatory Branch was not populated by ogres bent on wetland destruction! It was populated with people of many varying backgrounds and qualifications and it got more sophisticated during my tenure. And, over the years, I was able to provide explanation and clarification of convoluted regulations and policies to WWA staff on occasion. Coming full circle!
Thanks to my volunteer work for WWA, I found a rewarding and long career as a regulator where I learned even more about wetland science and policy. I have been thrilled to see how our little organization—once held together with rubber bands and paper clips and run out of our homes—has grown and flourished into a widely recognized, science-based, professional, and staffed organization.
Thanks WWA, and may the next 50 years be even better!