ELLICOTTVILLE — Brian Davis came to Cattaraugus County for the first time 35 years ago as a technician for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil and Water Conservation District.
Davis retired on Wednesday as district field manager for the Cattaraugus County Soil and Water Conservation District, headquartered in Ellicottville.
As district field manager for the past 30 years, Davis has overseen millions of dollars of projects each year from agricultural drainage/diversion, silo, manure storage, grazing, wildlife habitat, forest management to flood control and rip-rap and other streambank protection.
The Ellicottville office and small staff handle about $4 million in state and local grants a year, many which require some matching funds, and provide technical assistance to businesses, farmers and highway superintendents.
Davis calls his move from the Soil and Conservation Service to the Cattaraugus County Soil and Water Conservation District “the best career move of my life.”
That move came in January 1990. Five years before that, he had started working for the USDA in Cattaraugus County after graduating with a degree in natural resources and conservation from Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown.
When he got a job with USDA, they gave him a choice of three offices. He’d never heard of Ellicottville, but, “I knew it was pretty rural and had good deer hunting.”
Originally from Cobleskill, Davis chose Ellicottville and never looked back.
“We’ve helped a lot of farmers and highway superintendents over the years,” Davis said in an interview on his last day at work at Soil and Water Conservation Service on Martha Avenue in Ellicottville.
Runoff and pollution controls on farm, along with erosion control are among Soil and Water Conservation Service’s objectives. During Davis’ tenure, they began utilizing new stream channel restoration techniques that are now widely used.
Davis had also begun incorporating some natural features on stream-bank restoration and protection projects.
As farms got larger over the years, agriculture runoff has become more of a concern. The Soil and Water Conservation Services works with farmers of all sizes on increasing awareness of issues and the technical assistance for projects.
“Farmers have been good stewards of the land with these projects,” Davis said. “These projects have paid off for the farmers. They are also helping with local employment. Contractors buy materials for these project in the county. Pipe or gravel, money is going back into the local economy.”
Davis said he knew he was going to miss a lot of things when he retired. “I’ve worked with a lot of good people in partnerships with organizations and groups” he said. He said he always liked working with Trout Unlimited on their projects.
He also spoke highly of staff.
“Administration has gotten to be a bigger part of the job,” Davis said. “I’m a field guy at heart.”
The office worked through the coronavirus pandemic by first working at home, then alternating days with half the office staff at home one day and in the office the next.
“Farmers are still hiring contractors and getting projects done,” Davis said. Everything from field drainage to new manure storage facilities and stream rip-rap is progressing now.
“The biggest losses to coronavirus was the annual Farmer-Neighbor Dinner that had been scheduled for April and the Envirothon,” the environmental program for high school teams, Davis said. “They want to reschedule the Farmer-Neighbor Dinner for October.” This year’s Envirothon at Allegany State Park was canceled.
Davis said the last few weeks on the job had been “very busy. I feel like I am stepping off into a new adventure.”
Among the first things he’s planning to do in retirement is “go off the grid for a while — away from the telephone and the computer.”
His last day was officially June 27, but with unused vacation, Davis left at noon on Wednesday. “Use it or lose it,” he said.
Megan Boberg has been promoted to the manager’s position, Davis said. She worked in Wyoming County before coming to the Cattaraugus County Soil and Water Conservation Service.”
Davis said, “I’m proud of all the working relationships he had with county, state and federal organizations. We’ve got a good staff and a good board. We’re committed to what we’ve been doing.”
(Contact reporter Rick Miller at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)