Protecting watersheds: WINS

The Allegheny Watershed Improvement Needs Coalition (WINs) was formed in April 2007; its mission is “to promote protection, restoration, and habitat improvement activities in watersheds that lie entirely or partially in the Allegheny National Forest to achieve Forest Service and community needs through collaboration and partnerships.”

Nathan Welker, Allegheny National Forest fisheries biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service said, “The group’s main focus is developing and implementing projects to protect and restore watersheds and aquatic ecosystems. This includes outreach and educational activities targeting rural communities and youth as a means of preventing problems from occurring in the future.

He explained that Allegheny WINs is governed by a steering committee made up of representatives of municipal, county, state and federal government agencies, and leaders of various non-profit organizations such as the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and local watershed organizations. The group meets quarterly at locations throughout the Forest.

“Over $5,000,000 in external funding and more than 5,000 volunteer days have been brought to the four county region in support of over 50 coalition projects. The lessons learned and successes shared serve as an excellent example of the power of partnership and collaboration among agencies and organizations,” he said.

Kathy Mohney, executive assistant to the ANF supervisor added that 13 non-profits,eight county agencies, six state agencies, five federal agencies and the Seneca Nation of Indians regularly participate in the coalitions planning and projects.

“The ANF took the initial steps to establish the WINs Coalition in 2007 and continues to serve as a keystone organization for the group. The ANF, like many of our excellent WINs partners, provide leadership and support for a wide-range of partnership projects and events. Each partner organization functions independently providing funding, personnel, and resources however they see fit,” she said.

The future of the WINs Coalition is uncertain. Municipal, county, state and federal agencies as well as non-profit organizations all continue to face challenges due to declining budgets; “Need is up; charitable donations are down nationwide,” she noted.

Mohney said the biggest challenges to the future of the coalition are reductions in staff, funding and resources available to the group, which makes the support of our volunteers and partners vital to the work they do.