Bldg_AmphibHabitatStrucBy Greg Fizzell, Tiffany Cooper, and Aly Bean

The education program at the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute (PCEI) gives local school groups and community members an opportunity to learn about the natural world while participating in community service. PCEI programs are unique in nature because of their ability to connect state-of-the-art watershed restoration projects with community education. Through a multitude of programs from pond and stream ecology to the Complete Kinder Series, PCEI serves over 1,500 K-university students, teachers, and citizens annually.

Students_w:BiologLocated in the sleepy University town of Moscow, Idaho, PCEI was started eighteen years ago in response to the explosion that rocked the world, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.   As executive director Tom Lamar explains, “The construction of the two reactors {Chernobyl and Hanford, WA) were fairly similar, they were built about the same time, and there was a lot of concern about both them. If Chernobyl could blow up, people felt Hanford could blow up.”   Since then PCEI has evolved and expanded, though the mission has remained constant, “to increase citizen involvement in decisions that affect the region’s environment.”

“Everything we’ve done so far has been because the people in the community have said, “This needs to happen,” says Lamar.  “For example, ten years ago people were saying somebody should do something about Paradise Creek.”  PCEI responded with annual creek cleanup projects and an Adopt-a-Stream program, which later evolved into a full-sale watershed restoration program.  This program now engages school and church groups, civic service clubs like the Lions and Elks, and WSU and UI fraternities and sororities in hands-on restoration work. The program has also contributes to the local economy.  PCEI buys from local nurseries and businesses and hires local contractors and workers.  In fact, nearly $1.4 has been invested in their local watershed over the last decade.  Who says environmental work is bad for the economy?

Student_monitor_WQThe work PCEI and their community volunteers produce improves quality of life and gives people a reason to want to live in Moscow and reinvest in their community.  Community contributions are used to leverage outside funding from state and federal pollution prevention contracts.  As a result, policy shifts in the local government can be seen as people begin to recognize the value of the stream and its related resources. In the past the city was concerned with flooding, and would spend money each year dredging the stream channel. Now their values have broadened and a new stormwater management plan and erosion control ordinance is being implemented to protect the stream’s ability to handle those peak flows.

Restoration and addressing non-point source pollution is the environmental goal of the Paradise Creek project, but PCEI has a larger goal. “Our work is to try to turn it [the project] into a community building exercise as well,î Lamar continues.  In the long run, because we’re using volunteers, and getting people involved on an emotional level, it has the long-term benefit of being a more sustainable project. People become invested in and take ownership over the work.”

So What’s New at PCEI?

PCEI received funding 2003 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 environmental education grant program to develop an online, interactive Geographic Information System (GIS) focused on Paradise Creek. Starting in April 2004, teachers, students and other community members will be able interactively visit their watershed through maps and pictures on the Internet.

Scoping_MacroinvertebratesThis summer, PCEI is gearing up to offer 5 weeks of farm and forest exploration with their Adventure Club summer program at the local Phillipsís Farm county park.  They are also busy planning three backpacking trips into the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area of northeast Oregon. Two trips will be offered to area teens and the third trip will be a womenís-only trek.  Each of these summer programs integrates a service component- from planting to trail work.  The environmental education ñ service-learning connection has become second nature at PCEI.

Connecting people, place and community, the PCEI vision, rings especially true in for two high school volunteers that monitor water quality weekly on Paradise Creek.  They remember when their 5th grade class helped plant native vegetation at one of PCEIís first restoration projects — what is now Carol Ryrie Brink Nature Park.  Looking back, they realize how easy it is to play a significant role in their communities’ future.

PCEI has also played a major role in developing the first publicly operated residential environmental education center in Idaho — the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS).  As a result, they have forged important partnerships with the University of Idaho, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, the Idaho Forest Products Commission, the Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission, and the Nez Perce National Historical Park.  These partnerships allow PCEI to extend its reach statewide — to influence environmental education beyond the local level.  For more information on the MOSS program, visit

Building a strong community through educational programs and watershed restoration remains the main goal for PCEI and as the environmental movement continues to evolve, so will the organization.  For more information about PCEI, visit their website at